Six months later...

This should serve as an eye-opener for those who hoped the ‘business as usual’ strategy will work today, as it has always worked in the past

Six months later, we can still only begin to calculate the enormity of the impact of last October’s brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

To start with, there is the inevitable chilling effect on the media as a whole. The car-bomb that took her life also exploded a cherished myth about Malta being a generally safe country, where the basic institutions, on the whole, function smoothly.

It is still too early to pinpoint the exact motive behind her murder, but there can be no conceivable doubt that it was connected with her public persona as an investigative journalist and blogger. Clearly, Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered on account of her published writings. The crime therefore exposed the precise limits of freedom of expression in this country... which, as can be attested by similar murders abroad, are the same in every country where the forces of criminality are deeply entrenched.

This in turn illustrates an uncomfortable truth about Malta. Undeniably we have progressed – socially, culturally, economically – in leaps and bounds since Independence. But this progress has come at a terrifying cost: organised crime has clearly become intertwined with the mechanics of our country, and it is at best debatable whether the forces of law and order have advanced in step with this menace.

It is for this reason, too, that the murder put Malta under an international spotlight like never before. This in turn has exposed a deficit among politicians and public officials, who may hitherto have only been used to dealing with media and public opinion on a national level. The fact that so many government officials seem surprised (or aggrieved) upon suddenly finding themselves questioned, scrutinised and criticised by many outside our shores, attests to how cocooned we have always been to the realities of the wider world.

It is quite frankly embarrassing to witness public figures responding to international criticism in the same way as they tend to deflect local scrutiny. The truth is that Malta has been subject to a rule of law investigation by MEPs, while public figures like V18 chairman Jason Micallef have been censured by some of the world’s leading public intellectuals for their crass and undignified comments about the murder victim.

On another level, for the first time since joining the EU Malta has experienced a second tier of scrutiny unlike anything seen previously. This should serve as an eye-opener for those who hoped the ‘business as usual’ strategy will work today, as it has always worked in the past. Today, we can all see that Malta is plugged into an additional circuit board that can override the local mechanisms if these prove faulty in practice. The present government, as well as all future ones, would do well to take stock of this new reality once and for all.

At the same time, however, we are still very far from solving the murder case itself. International pressure is welcome if it serves to expedite and de-mystify the process... it is not much use, however, if it only adds to existing doubts.

International and local observers alike should be wary of ‘joining the dots’, as it were. The international press undeniably found themselves
confronted by all the ingredients for what might make a major international story: a slain journalist who had recently denounced high level corruption; a government selling EU citizenship; a flirtation with Azeri kleptocrats, high-ranking officials kept in office despite being outed in the Panama Papers and a financial services industry which attracts oligarchs and crooks, etc.

But all this arises from only one significant aspect of the Caruana Galizia legacy; her scrutiny of the interconnection between the Maltese government and rogue international capitalism. It fails to take in the other side of the equation: the claim – made by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat exactly a year ago, and repeated ever since – that the allegations may have been a frame-up.   

This is why the temptation to join dots can be extremely problematic. The fact that certain facts exist does not necessarily prove that they are connected. Nor does the absence of a proven connection necessarily derail the seriousness of the issues surrounding each fact. Moreover, before dismissing the entire investigation as a farce, it would be helpful to remember that three men have already been charged with the murder, and that their compilation of evidence continues.

And still, important facts and questions continue to crop up: The most astonishing recent revelation is that Caruana Galizia’s laptop had not been retrieved by the police. That the police did not have access to her work and research following 2015 is astounding, and raises suspicions of a possible case of obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, a consortium of newspapers and media houses announced that, as of last night, they will start publishing the remainder of Daphne’s work as they sift through 750,000 files in their possession.

Presumably these files were on the “missing” laptop that was not part of the police investigation.

It would be ironic – though still very welcome – if any major conclusions were forthcoming from this media investigation. Clearly, however, we should be able to rely on local police investigations as much as international media probes.