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The woman who died protecting free media, her story cuts new ground in journalism worldover

Democracy is a luxury that must be fought for, and its voice must be secured and protected every day. From being a household name in Malta, Daphne has become a lighthouse for justice across Europe and beyond.

By Chitra Subramaniam
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If Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were alive today, she would be digging out irrefutable documentary evidence against corrupt Russian oligarchs who have made Malta and other European countries their playground. Her blog ‘Running Commentary’ would be the place to go to for all in search of justice and dignity. It would also be the space dreaded by the corrupt, wondering when she would write about them. Caruana Galizia would have stopped at nothing to follow the money trail to ensure the guilty would be brought to book. Now.

She would, at the same time, ensure that refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine would find safe passage and succour if not in her country than certainly somewhere in Europe. She was a true European who worked and died for the ideals that hold the continent – democracy and liberty - together.

She would find time to play with her grandchildren, probably telling them stories of valour, love and human dignity between stringing beads, making colourful paper toys and baking cupcakes.


It was that ‘if’ that so terrorised the Maltese government that they murdered her.

Months of European and international outrage eventually forced Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to resign, but justice evades Daphne and her family. Their formidable work to seek justice is being pushed back by layers of corruption and cronyism in Europe that rears its ugly head from behind every piece of law and process that keeps the continent together as much as it tests it at every twist and turn.

Her blog spared no one. At one time, it had more readers than all Maltese newspapers put together, testifying to the simple fact that she was speaking to all of us and for all of us, so we believed in our pursuit of truth and justice in our lives and democracies.

At the time of her assassination, Caruana Galizia was investigating the Panama Papers in Malta. Mother, anchor, wife, friend, blogger, a moral compass and a formidable opponent to all who underestimated her, Daphne became larger than life for those who sought to silence her.

Matthew Caruana Galizia talks about his mother Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination | Video courtesy: International Journalism Festival | YouTube

They used a car bomb to blow her body to smithereens just as she left home to go to the bank. Her sons Andrew, Matthew and Paul have said in an interview that they grew up with the fear that something terrible would happen to their mother one day. Their mother had been called a whore and a prostitute, she had been spat on in public, the children were bullied in school, their dog was killed and their house was set on fire while the family slept.

There comes a time in every investigative journalist’s life when they know as much if not more than the crooks they are investigating. There are two options. Drop all and return to safety or pursue the story in full knowledge of the dangers. It is not an easy decision. Journalists know crooks can hide their corruption, but if you are committed to the path of truth, justice and values are non-negotiable; there is only one way, and that is the more dangerous one. This is probably what happened to Caruana Galizia who I believe knew more than anyone in Malta and beyond about what was going on and may have even protected her family by not sharing everything she knew.

The moment he heard the blast, Matthew knew it was a bomb – Daphne was gone.

At the time of her assassination, Caruana Galizia was investigating a very controversial power station negotiation in which businessmen Jorgen Fenech who is supposed to be close to the ruling party, was one of the main shareholders and directors. Muscat, Schmbri, Mizzi – hollow and corrupt politicians whose ilk is found in all governments and certainly in India – who were eventually linked to her assassination must have wondered what “if” Caruana Galizia found out. They couldn’t stop her, so they killed her.

The similarities with India are myriad. In poll-bound India, crooks are elected as lawmakers, criminals vote on financial jurisdiction and the illiterate and corrupt chart the country’s economic trajectory. Most, if not all, bureaucrats and politicians are in the know, and many are in the take well past the “what if” boundary they left decades ago. Read Caruana Galizia’s blog to see just how close her work is to that of investigative journalists in India. We have thousands of them gnawing away at our system, sparing no institution.

Today, we are past 229 weeks, but justice evades not just Daphne’s family but all who are fighting corruption and sleaze in governments. After her death, journalists formed a group to complete the various stories she was working on, each more dangerous than the other. From being a household name in Malta, Daphne has become a lighthouse for justice across Europe and beyond. A 437-page report by a team of judges said the state had “failed to recognise the real and immediate risks” to the investigative journalist’s life and “failed to take reasonable steps to avoid them”.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation said the report was a landmark moment in the campaign to hold the state accountable for its obligation to protect journalists. “This is a historic opportunity to ensure real change for the safety of journalists to a process of national healing following the traumatic assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”

In honouring her, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, recently tweeted that a Maltese journalist gave her life in search of truth and her murder was a “brutal attack on free media”. Europe has Caruana Galizia’s death on its conscience. In their grief and their struggle and through the Daphne foundation, the family has come together to push for the safety of journalists all over the world through various pieces of legislation and advocacy platforms.

From person to people, from people to society and from society to large communities, Daphne’s story will be told and retold till it cuts new ground in journalism on the one hand and is taught in journalism schools around the world. In the telling is the healing, in the healing is the strength and in the strength is the capacity to fight injustice. On this International Women’s Day, let us spend a minute paying tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died on the job as she pursued truth and justice. We must ensure that she did not die in vain.

Democracy is a luxury that must be fought for, and its voice must be secured and protected every day. As Caruana Galizia wrote, right and wrong are not popularity contests, and there are no “ifs” and buts either.

(To read Daphne's original piece that she wrote 4 months before her assassination, click here)

Chitra Subramaniam | The Probe

Chitra Subramaniam is an award-winning Journalist and media entrepreneur, best known for her path-breaking investigative stories on Bofors scam. She is the founder of Geneva-based CSD consulting and writes on public health, media, development and geopolitics.