Daphne Caruana Galizia: Malta Has Made Me A Scapegoat

Ten days before her murder, Daphne Caruana Galizia talked about her life and what it had become. In a remarkable and previously unheard recording, the journalist described arson attacks on her home, attempts to cut off her income, the freezing of her bank accounts, dozens of libel suits brought by ministers and business people, and attacks online and in the street by critics who branded her a “witch.” By turns fearful, defiant and darkly amused, the journalist set out in her own words the danger she was in. Ten days later she died in a car bomb.

The interview in October 2017 was for a study by a human rights group, the Council of Europe, in which she was asked to detail decades of threats and harassment. “They have made me into what in effect is a national scapegoat. And this has gone on for 30 years now, almost,” she said. “I am in a situation where people who can’t even read English, and therefore have never read anything I’ve written, at the same time are aware of who I am, know that they are meant to hate me … and react to me on that basis. Irrespective of what I write, but as the person, as the figure, that they are told to hate.”

Shared by her family as part of the Daphne Project, the recording paints a haunting picture of how the world had closed in on Caruana Galizia during the last four years of her life. Well-known in Malta since her mid-20s, when she became a columnist, Caruana Galizia had helped launch an English language newspaper, the Malta Independent, published her lifestyle magazine, and then the blog Running Commentary. A mixture of news’ scoops, and coruscating opinion pieces, it earned her many enemies. In true gonzo journalism style, Caruana Galizia never hesitated to place herself at the centre of the story.

Her involvement in the 2016 Panama Papers investigation brought her blog to international attention – and led to even more intrusive scrutiny of her in Malta. She described how members of the public were encouraged to film and photograph her, and post the results to social media. Many of the pictures appeared on a blog run by Glenn Bedingfield, a communications adviser in the office of the prime minister, who published hundreds of pieces on the journalist. “In one year, in one year, there were 380 posts about me. More than one a day … I’d be at my local coffee shop having a cup of coffee, and they’d encourage people to take photos of me and send them in. I mean, there’s no news value in that, you know. It was just harassment.” Caruana Galizia said she had not been to the beach for four years, after an incident in which a group had followed her, uploading photos in real time to Facebook. She compared her life to Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, about the persecution of women as witches in the 17th century. “You watch it, and you think: ‘Madonna, this is like Malta but with different clothes.’”

Aligned with Malta’s right of centre Nationalist party, Caruana Galizia’s criticism of the opposition Labour party and its supporters could also be merciless. Asked by the Guardian to respond to the criticisms Caruana Galizia made of him and his party, Bedingfield said she would often use her blog to encourage readers to post photos of Labour politicians in private moments with their families. “She was more of a political commentator than a journalist, with her agenda,” said Bedingfield, now a Labour MP. “She used her blog on the net to target and hound individuals. There was a feeling among Labour supporters that only a taste of her own medicine would deter her.” The MP said he had never advocated violence against Caruana Galizia, or any other Maltese citizen. He said Malta had a “very lively media”, which was often critical of the government.

Caruana Galizia married young and had three children by her mid-20s when she was hired as a columnist by the Sunday Times of Malta. Until then, she recalled, comment pieces had been written anonymously. “Malta got its first named newspaper columnist, and it was a 25-year-old woman. And this thing was a double shock. And I used to have people telling me: ‘But does your husband write them for you? Does your father? Does your brother?’” Becoming well known at a young age prepared her for what was to come, she said. “I know no other way of life. I got used to it, like, you know, like a scar form around a wound.”

The attempts to silence her began early on, according to a list of attacks compiled by the family. In 1995, after reporting on the activity of a drug trafficker, their dog’s throat was slit and its body left at the door of their home. In 2006, truck tyres were piled up and set on fire against their back door in the middle of the night. During the 2008 general election, Caruana Galizia and her youngest son, Paul, then a 19-year-old student, attended a political debate at the University of Malta. Throughout the event, they were filmed and photographed at close range before Labour-supporting media broadcast the footage on television and online. By then, Caruana Galizia’s support for the Nationalist party had made her a target in Malta’s tribal, two-party system. The Labour campaign plastered her face on billboards, depicting her as a member of the ruling elite. In 2013, the mayor of a Maltese town led a mob that followed Caruana Galizia through the streets, insulting her and chanting slogans, until she sought refuge in a convent. The nuns bolted the door and called the police. When Labour won power five years ago, the harassment intensified. It now appeared to be, in effect, government-sanctioned harassment. Caruana Galizia feared for her family. Her husband, Peter, saw government contracts withdrawn from his law firm. Last year her son Andrew, a diplomat, was recalled from India with two weeks’ notice. He has since quit his job. Responding to questions about Andrew’s departure, the prime minister said in an email from his spokesman that he did not involve himself in individual staffing matters, and that he had been assured: “nothing irregular occurred and that all proper and correct procedures were followed”.

Caruana Galizia’s biggest fear was that her example might discourage other journalists, women in particular, from speaking out. She described a “climate of fear”, saying “all journalists in Malta know that they are operating under the goodwill of those they write about.” Before Caruana Galizia was killed, there were 47 libel suits outstanding against her, but she remained defiant. Towards the end of their interview, she told the researcher: “There isn’t one politician in parliament now, on either side of the house, who was there when I started working. I’ve seen them all off, you know, and I am still here, being targeted by the same machine.”

[This article was amended on 18 April 2018. The recording was made ten days before her death, not six, as we said originally.]

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