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Malta government carries responsibility for journalist's murder, inquiry finds

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A sign reading "Daphne was right" is photographed at the Great Siege Square as people gather calling for the resignation of Joseph Muscat, following the arrest of one of the country's most prominent businessmen, as part of the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Valletta, Malta November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane.

An independent inquiry into the car bomb murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta found on Thursday that the state had to bear responsibility after creating a "culture of impunity", writes Christopher Scicluna.

Caruana Galizia was killed in a massive explosion as she drove out of her home on 16 October, 2017.

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Prosecutors believe top businessman Yorgen Fenech, who had close ties with senior government officials, masterminded the murder. Fenech, who is awaiting trial for association to murder, denies all responsibility.

Three men suspected of setting off the bomb were arrested in December 2017. One has since pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain and is serving a 15-year jail term. The other two are awaiting trial. The self-confessed middleman has turned state witness and was granted a pardon.

The inquiry, conducted by one serving judge and two retired judges, found that a culture of impunity was created by the highest echelons of power within the government of the time.

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"The tentacles of impunity then spread to other regulatory bodies and the police, leading to a collapse in the rule of law," said the panel's report, which was published by Prime Minister Robert Abela. Read more.

Abela, who succeeded Joseph Muscat as premier in 2020, told reporters he wanted to apologise to Caruana Galizia's family and all those affected by the state's failures. "The murder was a dark chapter in the history of Malta and it would be a shame if lessons are not learnt," he told a news conference.

The investigative report was another step in the healing process, Abela added, and he summoned parliament for an emergency sitting on Friday morning to discuss it.

The report said the state failed to recognize the real and immediate risks to Caruana Galizia's life and failed to take reasonable steps to avoid them.

Caruana Galizia's family issued a statement saying they hoped its findings would lead to the restoration of the rule of

law in Malta, effective protection for journalists and an end to the impunity that the corrupt officials Daphne

investigated continue to enjoy."

Muscat resigned in January 2020 following Fenech's arrest. He was never accused of any wrongdoing.

Muscat wrote on Facebook on Thursday that the report "unequivocally states that I was in no way implicated in the murder...It is to be noted that the inquiry found that the state had no prior knowledge of or was involved in the assassination."

Media later also revealed close links between Fenech, ministers, and senior police officers.

The judges called in their report for immediate action to rein in and regulate links between politicians and big business.

It was clear, the inquiry board said, that the assassination of Caruana Galizia was either intrinsically or directly linked to her investigative work.

Reuters has published several investigations into the Caruana Galizia murder, including in April 2018, in November 2018 and March this year.

NOT BINDING

The report's conclusions do not oblige Malta's government to take any action, but the opposition Nationalist Party called on Muscat and Abela to shoulder their responsibilities.

"The state inquiry is clear: Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder was enabled by the collective inaction of Joseph Muscat's cabinet, many of whom still hold public office. Robert Abela must ensure that responsibility for this culture of impunity is shouldered," opposition leader Bernard Grech said in a statement.

In their report, the judges attributed indirect responsibility to Muscat for the circumstances leading to the murder, citing his failure to act against his chief of staff Keith Schembri and former energy minister Konrad Mizzi over their secret companies, revealed in the Panama Papers, and their alleged links to 17 Black, a secret company owned by Fenech.

Muscat, Schembri and Mizzi have not faced any charges linked to Caruana Galizia and have publicly denied involvement. Schembri and Mizzi did not comment on Thursday's report.

The report said decisions by Muscat had strengthened the culture of impunity in which people whom the assassinated journalist wrote about operated.

Repubblika, a rule-of law group that held daily public protests in the run-up to Muscat's resignation, called another protest outside the prime minister's office for Friday evening.

It said the state should offer compensation to the Caruana Galizia family and the government should conduct a reform that excludes from public office every person responsible for shortcomings outlined in the inquiry.

Abela said on Thursday he did not rule out the possibility of compensation to the family.

The inquiry heard evidence from the police, government officials, the Caruana Galizia family and journalists, among others.

European Parliament

Apply for the Daphne Caruana Galizia journalism prize

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The European Parliament’s new journalism prize in tribute to murdered Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia (pictured), has opened for submissions. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism, launched on 16 October 2020, the third anniversary of her death, will reward outstanding journalism reflecting EU values. Applications for 2021 are open until 31 August, Society.

"The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize will recognize the essential role that journalists play in preserving our democracies and serve as a reminder to citizens of the importance of a free press. This prize is designed to help journalists in the vital and often dangerous work they do and show that the European Parliament supports investigative journalists," said Parliament Vice-President Heidi Hautala.

Prize money of €20,000

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The €20,000 annual prize is open to journalists or teams of journalists of any nationality whose in-depth stories have been published or broadcast by a media outlet based in the European Union. Candidates and the eventual laureate will be chosen by an independent panel. The award ceremony will be held in October 2021 at the European Parliament.

Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist, blogger and anti-corruption activist who reported extensively on corruption, money laundering, organised crime, sale of citizenship and the Maltese government’s links to the Panama Papers. Following harassment and threats, she was murdered in a car bomb explosion on 16 October 2017.

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The outcry over the authorities’ handling of her murder investigation ultimately prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Critical of failings in the investigation, in December 2019, MEPs called on the European Commission to take action.

Published on 28 April, the report 'Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists' from the Council of Europe lists 201 serious violations of media freedom in 2020. This figure marks a 40% increase from 2019 and is the highest figure recorded since the platform was established in 2014. A record number of alerts concerned physical assault (52 cases) and harassment or intimidation (70 cases).

Parliament strongly advocates the importance of a free press. In a May 2018 resolution, MEPs called on EU countries to ensure adequate public funding and to promote a pluralist, independent and free media. Parliament has once again underlined the importance of media freedom in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Watch the Facebook live interview about the Daphne Caruana Galizia Journalism Prize.

Find out more 

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EU

Commission launches first-ever call for journalism partnerships worth €7.6 million

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The Commission has published a €7.6 million call for journalism partnerships financed for the first time through an EU programme, Creative Europe. Grants will support cross-border collaboration among news media professionals in Europe. This first call promotes business transformation and journalistic projects – this can include the development of common technical standards, new types of newsrooms, the testing of new business models, original reporting and innovative production formats.

Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová said: “It is the first time that the EU supports such journalism partnerships. It is a clear message to journalists and media actors that we stand by their side to help them address the challenges they face. Increasing and diversifying funding support goes hand in hand with our work for democracy, the rule of law and for a fairer online environment.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: “Media freedom and pluralism are key values on which our democracies stand and cannot be taken for granted. Through our Creative Europe programme, we will allocate an unprecedented budget of at least €75 million by 2027 to supporting media freedom and pluralism.”

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Interested consortia can propose collaborations in a specific journalistic genre, and will operate with full editorial independence. Their projects should aim to help the wider European news media sectors, including small media. The deadline for applications for this call is 26 August 2021. Several other calls, representing close to €12m investment for European media projects, will be launched in the coming weeks, while other calls relevant for the news media sector, such as the Creative Innovation Labs, have recently been published. An upcoming webinar on this call and other funding opportunities for the news media sector can be found here, further information on current EU-funded projects in the news media sector can be found on this factsheet and an overview of the support to media freedom and pluralism is also available here. The Commission decided to strengthen its support to the media sector as part of the European Democracy and the Media and Audiovisual Action Plans.

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Parliament launches the Daphne Caruana Galizia journalism prize

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The European Parliament has launched a journalism prize in tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia (pictured), a Maltese investigative journalist murdered in 2017.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism, launched on 16 October 2020, the third anniversary of her death, will reward outstanding journalism reflecting EU values.

"The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize will recognize the essential role that journalists play in preserving our democracies and serve as a reminder to citizens of the importance of a free press. This prize is designed to help journalists in the vital and often dangerous work they do and show that the European Parliament supports investigative journalists," said Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala.

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Prize money of €20,000

The €20,000 annual prize will be awarded as of October 2021 to journalists or teams of journalists based in the European Union. Candidates and the eventual laureate will be chosen by an independent panel.

Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?

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Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist, blogger and anti-corruption activist who reported extensively on corruption, money laundering, organised crime, sale of citizenship and the Maltese government’s links to the Panama Papers. Following harassment and threats, she was murdered in a car bomb explosion on 16 October 2017.

The outcry over the authorities’ handling of her murder investigation ultimately prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Critical of failings in the investigation, in December 2019, MEPs called on the European Commission to take action.

Published on 28 April, the report Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists from the Council of Europe lists 201 serious violations of media freedom in 2020. This figure marks a 40% increase from 2019 and is the highest figure recorded since the platform was established in 2014. A record number of alerts concerned physical assault (52 cases) and harassment or intimidation (70 cases).

Parliament strongly advocates the importance of a free press. In a May 2018 resolution, MEPs called on EU countries to ensure adequate public funding and to promote a pluralist, independent and free media. Parliament has once again underlined the importance of media freedom in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch this Facebook live interview about the Daphne Caruana Galizia Journalism Prize.

Find out more 

Continue Reading
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