Saturday, November 27

Time to commit to protecting the media | View

Commemorating the fourth anniversary of the murder of Malta’s top investigative reporter Daphne Caruana GaliciaMalta has the opportunity to make history and take great steps to protect journalists.

The country has the opportunity to introduce reforms that could be a model for the rest of Europe and to send a clear message that journalism is the fourth crucial pillar of democracy, and journalists must be supported and protected by the critical work they do. performed on behalf of the public to hold the powerful accountable.

A battle between state and people

When I first traveled to Malta in 2018 as part of a delegation of human rights organizations, two things struck me.

On the one hand, the furiously hostile denial of responsibility for Daphne’s assassination articulated by the government of then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat; on the other, the extraordinary power of the movement for justice for Daphne and the protests against the high-level corruption for which she was murdered.

This battle between the state and its people unfolded daily as his family and supporters gathered at the protest monument that had been erected around the statue in front of the courthouse in the center of Valletta.

Every night for more than two years, the posters, candles and flowers commemorating Daphne would be destroyed by order of then-Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, the same person in charge of ensuring that justice was served in her case.

Every morning, the protesters would replace these tributes. This confrontation, more familiar in Putin’s Russia than in an EU capital, was only resolved by a 2020 Constitutional Court decision that found the Minister of Justice had violated the rights of protesters.

Today the memorial still stands, but justice for Daphne and the grand corruption she exposed has yet to be achieved.

Pandora’s papers remind us of what is at stake

At the time of her assassination, one of Daphne’s lines of investigation focused on high-ranking officials who were allegedly obtaining huge sums of money from taxpayers using offshore companies.

His investigations, some of which were exposed in the Panama Papers, analyzed trusts and a complex web of corrupt deals and bribes linked to Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR and Electrogas, a company partially owned by SOCAR, which had the Malta monopoly. state energy company. The former director of Electrogas today is accused ordering Daphne’s death.

Four years later, we return to Malta to meet with the new Prime Minister, Robert Abela, on the recommendations made by a landmark public inquiry into Daphne’s murder.

Your conclusions they are astonishing and monumental, and they finally find the state of Malta responsible for his death.

It also states that the State “created a climate of impunity, generated from the highest levels within the administration of the Prime Minister’s Office, and [that] like an octopus, it spread to other entities such as regulatory institutions and the police, causing the collapse of the rule of law ”.

Daphne’s story is a window into the importance of investigative journalism. In particular, it reveals the consequences of the failure to prosecute the authorities for the crimes that journalists risk their lives exposing.

In early October, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released a two-year investigation into nearly 12 million leaked documents exposing the financial and tax avoidance practices of the rich and powerful, involving journalists from all over the world. the world.

From the generous spending of a UK business mogul after the collapse of a company that cost thousands of jobs, to revelations about the property wealth of Azerbaijani officials in violation of anti-corruption rules, the Pandora Papers provide a further proof of the role strong investigative journalism plays in propping up democracy.

Journalists from all over Europe threatened

Where there is no justice for the crimes and malpractices revealed by these investigations, journalists are left vulnerable, alone and unprotected in the face of powerful businessmen, politicians and criminals with financial, legal and public relations resources inordinately greater than themselves, some of whom they have lethal intentions.

In this environment, we can only hope that more journalists are targeted like Daphne was. And since Daphne’s death, journalists investigating crime and corruption in Slovakia, Greece and the Netherlands have been killed.

In all of these cases, no one has yet been brought to justice. This fuels a well-founded belief among many journalists that the price for killing them is less than the benefits for corruption.

It is time to ensure that the murder of a journalist never happens again. If Malta can end impunity for these crimes and enshrine the formal recognition and concrete protection of media freedom, it could set an example for the rest of Europe.

Daphne’s battle for justice has gone on for too long. It is time for Malta, and the rest of the world, to step up to protect our journalists who do so much to protect the rest of us.

Sarah Clarke is Director for Europe and Central Asia of ARTICLE 19, an international organization that works to promote freedom of expression.

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