Maltese Journalist Killed In Car Bomb Explosion: The Increasing Cost Of Investigative Reporting

Prolific investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in Bidnija, a hamlet in north-central Malta, when a bomb exploded while she was in her car, in an attack that has shocked Malta and drawn condemnation from the European Union and journalists across the globe.

Galizia was one of Malta’s most vocal, respected, and well-known investigative journalists, particularly after she used the leaked Panama Papers to expose Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife’s links to an offshore tax haven, where she was holding money from Azerbaijan’s ruling family. Galizia accused both Muscat and his wife of benefitting from the unexplained payments, and although they denied the accusations, they prompted Muscat to call for a snap election in June of this year, which he won.

In a statement, Muscat said “I condemn without reservations this barbaric attack on a person and on the freedom of expression in our country. Everyone is aware that Ms. Caruana Galizia was one of my harshest critics, politically and personally, as she was for others too. However, I can never use, in any way, this fact to justify, in any possible way, this barbaric act that goes against civilization and all dignity.”

Muscat also stated that he instructed the police force and National Security to take any necessary measures in the investigation to bring justice and to “seek assistance from international security bodies during the investigation.”

The investigation is being conducted by police in Malta, although Galizia’s family has expressed concern about corruption within the police force and have asked for the replacement of the senior police commissioner and the attorney general.

In an “unprecedented measure” the Maltese government is offering a reward of €1 million for any information regarding Galizia’s murder. In a statement, the government said it would offer the reward for “whomever comes forward with information leading to the identification of those responsible” for her death. Galizia’s family have not endorsed the reward, despite being asked by Muscat himself, according to The Guardian.

Galizia frequently wrote about corruption in Malta, most prominently through her blog ‘Running Commentary’ through which she aimed to expose corruption and greed amongst the Maltese government, police, senior officials, and business executives. Galizia had used the Panama Papers to expose offshore havens of the Muscats and other high-ranking government officials, many of whom had launched libel cases against her. Galizia’s last blog post – posted only half an hour before her death – accused the prime minister’s chief of staff of corruption and labelled him a “crook.” According to the Times of Malta, Galizia had filed a police report about death threats she had received approximately two weeks before her death.

Journalists in Malta have condemned the attack and are presenting an united front in the face of the attack on journalism and free speech. The online editor of the Times of Malta, Herman Grech, said in a statement “the attack on one of us will not stop us from shining a light where others want darkness.”

Galizia’s family have also condemned the Maltese government and authorities after the attack, calling on Muscat to “show political responsibility and resign.” In a Facebook post, Galizia’s three sons said they “are not interested in justice without change. We are not interested in a criminal conviction only for the people in government who stood to gain from our mother’s murder to turn around and say that justice has been served.”

Galizia’s death is one among many in a changing world in which journalists are frequently threatened, sued, killed, or otherwise silenced by the corrupted, rich, and powerful they are attempting to expose. Her death has also shined a light on the difficulties of investigative reporting amidst declining press freedoms. According to ‘Reporters Without Borders,’ many democratic countries “began falling [in the World Press Freedom Index] in preceding years and now, more than ever, nothing seems to be checking that fall.” However many European nations, including Malta, have never experienced violence against journalists on this scale. The attack prompted Frans Timmermans, the first Vice-President of the European Union to state that “if journalists are silenced, our freedom is lost.”

The attack has also exposed Malta’s dark underbelly in which those in power will go to extreme lengths to stay in power, and has increased fear in the lives of other Maltese journalists. In a small country with low crime against public figures and relatively safe streets, many have speculated that Galizia’s murderer was someone she had written critically about in the past, or someone who had taken offence at her writings and was attempting to send a message to the government or press through her death.

Freedom of the press – in every nation – is an institution that must always be protected and upheld, especially in cases where corruption is prominent. Without free press, secrets, lies, and corruption will go on unnoticed, tipping the scale towards those with more power, while harming those without. The incident in Malta, and other incidents in which journalists have been silenced, point to an alarming global shift, and until governments and authorities across the world ensure free press, will result in a breakdown in democracy and the rule of law.

Ashika Manu