Just over a week after the brutal assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the shock hasn’t even begun to wear off. A friend, a colleague, and a mentor who not only encouraged me to write, but also gave me my first proper, paid writing job, Daphne was above all else an inspiration and a trail-blazer. From the start, when she was still in her early twenties, her opinion pieces were powerful and persuasive. Her clear and incisive logic demolished counter-arguments before they were even made. She was a sensation in Malta, the reason many bought their Sunday newspapers.
She was ferocious in her pursuit of the truth and used her articles to name, shame and pillory anyone in or close to a position of authority that she perceived to be corrupt, immoral, criminal, incompetent or suspect in any way. She despised liars and cheats, and saw loose personal morals in politicians and public officials as a flashing signal of lax standards of honesty and probity. She demanded the best from people in authority, and felt no qualms about using her pen to shred those who fell short.
The people who shared her strong values and commitment to truth grew into a solid, loyal core of supporters over the three decades she was writing. Not everyone felt completely comfortable with aspects of the way she wrote, even among her supporters, and this meant she also inspired an equally strong core of detractors, people who hated her for exposing them or their heroes, those who hated the way she wrote, but mostly those who never read anything she wrote but simply hated her because everyone they knew hated her too.
She’s been lauded as fearless, relentless, a force of nature almost, unstoppable when chasing down the corrupt, the sleazy, the dishonest and criminal. Growing into her own reputation over three decades of writing, she started her career in the late 80s with a weekly column for the Sunday Times of Malta. In 1992 she joined the newly launched Malta Independent as an editor, though she soon switched role to regular columnist, and was still writing two columns a week for the paper when she died. Concurrently, she produced and edited several lifestyle magazines, through which her readers were shown a completely different Daphne, an artistic, beauty-seeking, stylish Daphne, to the one they thought they knew through her columns.
In 2008 she set up her blog Running Commentary to escape the constraints of newsroom editing. This allowed her to take her journalism to previously unthinkable levels of controversy, unshackled from corporate limitations. Her new, unfettered style attracted hundreds of thousands of readers every day with stories exposing corruption, incompetence, misconduct and criminality in politicians, officials and the people around them. She had the sharpest nose for news on the island, regularly breaking stories she was alerted to by some small detail other news organizations bypassed, joining dots and following the trail of any story to its heart, which sometimes meant local criminals and gangs, but at other times led her further afield, to the Sicilian Mafia, Azerbaijani politicians or Libyan oil smugglers.
Running Commentary, Daphne Caruana Galizia's Notebook
Daphne led the reporting in Malta on the Panama Papers leak in 2016, exposing the Labour government’s Minister Konrad Mizzi and Chief of Staff Keith Schembri’s ownership of a secret company each in Panama, and alleging that a third Panama company set up at the same time belonged to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife, Michelle Muscat. This allegation and the uproar it created prompted Muscat to call an early election in June 2017, which returned the Labour Party to power.
Daphne was hounded by her detractors, both in print, in person and in court. When she died it was revealed that she was fighting no less than 42 libel cases, brought by 12 individuals. She received almost daily death threats, was the target of constant abuse on social media, comment boards and even her own blog. The harassment spilled over into actual physical violence several times over the years: her front door was set alight, petrol-doused tyres were piled up beside her house and set on fire, her dog’s throat was slashed, its corpse laid across her doorstep.
None of that worked. Daphne couldn’t be frightened into silence. It took the unspeakable brutality of a devastating car bomb at 3pm on October 16 to still her pen. The shock, sorrow and fury we, her friends, readers, admirers, colleagues are feeling now is surely multiplied a hundred-fold for her husband, Peter, and three sons, Matthew (a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist himself), Andrew and Paul, and the rest of her family. And her loss, the void she leaves that seems impossible anyone could ever fill, is enormous, tragic, on a national scale. The scrutiny she put all Maltese politicians under, regardless of affiliation, and that several of them tried so hard to stifle, has been eradicated. Her oft-quoted last post before she died read “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”
I’d been working abroad for seven years before Daphne was murdered, and though I followed her blog avidly, I hadn’t seen her for several years. Our last conversation, after my mother died a few years ago, was one of the most comforting I’d had. She told me she would always be grateful to my mother for standing between her (then in her late teens) and a policeman trying to arrest her at a demonstration in the turbulent early 80s, at which policemen were beating up peaceful demonstrators. Daphne said she’s never forgotten my mother’s intervention. Yet neither my mother, nor Daphne, had ever told me this story before. I was moved beyond words, not just because Daphne remembered my mother kindly, but because she understood just how much hearing that story would mean to me in that moment.
This intuition, this innate understanding of how people think, and what they’re feeling, is what set Daphne’s work so far apart from the rest. She was able to follow those trails, join those dots and reach the truth because she understood her quarry’s logic, and what their next moves were likely to be. And it gave her another quality too. It meant that while she could be the harshest of critics for those who abused or exploited power, she could also be the kindest and most insightful of friends to those around her.