… is that there is only one of her.
She has not been too far from the news for the past 30 years. She is, if you think about it, a more long-lasting feature of our scene than Alfred Sant, Lawrence Gonzi and others who invested their life to exist in the public eye.
I will not write her biography. I am not intending to canonise her, or even lionise her. I am not even meaning to defend her.
But it would be an incomplete analysis of the current political scenario if her presence in it right now is not understood or at least acknowledged.
My sincere frustration is that people approach the subject of Daphne Caruana Galizia either normatively or with a utilitarian assessment. Either manner of thinking, in my opinion, is inadequate. Daphne Caruana Galizia is neither good, nor bad. Nor is she good for the PN, or bad for it. The fact that she is right on some things and wrong on others or certain of her positions are advantageous for the PN and certain other positions disadvantageous to it, is purely incidental.
Incidental to the mere fact that Daphne Caruana Galizia is.
That is a complete sentence.
She will write what she wants to write and she owes no one a justification on how helpful or unhelpful, kind or harsh her writing is.
Her targets often complain she is unfair, and sometimes that is entirely justified. She is. But such is life.
This sounds uncomfortably like a defence of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and a poor one at that. But that is because the unfortunate reality is the person of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the role she occupies in our society are by consequence of her being the only one doing it, one and the same entity.
No one else, since the departure of Lino Cassar, has stepped in the role of polemicist in our society. And Lino Cassar is a poor comparison because he thought of himself as a propagandist of a political party in whose interest he believed himself to be acting. That is why the Honourable Glenn Bedingfield, MP, personal advisor to the Prime Minister, does not count.
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s antipathy to the Labour Party is not in itself a commitment to the PN, as can now, but far from for the first time in her career, be clearly seen.
Daphne Caruana Galizia will not be charmed by being compared with Lino Cassar. Mostly because she has qualities and merits to her writing Lino Cassar did not have. She is reluctantly acknowledged by everyone as the foremost investigator in the country and her coverage and energy, and her output with no resources or support except her own two feet, is often greater than the product of most newsrooms put together.
But even Daphne Caruana Galizia herself will likely acknowledge that her writing is not limited to cold factual impartial front page broadsheet reporting. She is also a polemicist, a provocateur, a critic that revels in the harshness and the colour of her words.
Not everyone reading this will be entirely familiar with Lino Cassar’s writings. Not everyone reading this will remember him at all.
But everyone will be familiar at least with the magazine title Charlie Hebdo. Many went through a Je suis Charlie phase on their Facebook when half their writing team was gunned down by terrorists.
Even as they tagged the Je suis Charlie motto to their profile pictures, many were unaware just what Charlie Hebdo habitually writes. If people here complain Daphne Caruana Galizia is not nice – and no, she is not nice and has no ambition to be – Charlie Hebdo is positively inflammatory.
Charlie Hebdo’s target list includes all sacred cows and it feels it is under no obligation to be consistent, distributive, or even fair in the harshness of its criticism.
It comes from a long tradition in France of satire and political invective that in that political culture is considered as inherent to democracy as much as free and fair elections. Indeed the French Revolution was fought on the back of the defiance of censorship and what they said – truthfully or falsely – of their targets would make most people blush even today.
The pride of polemicists is not that they are nice. Or even that they are fair. Or consistent. But that they have the courage to stab from the front. Anyone.
They hold up a mirror to society and point out the warts, the hairy beer bellies and all the hypocrisies large and small that are an inevitable part of our humanity. They are the needle that deflates pomp and in doing so they keep power in check and ensure that people of authority understand they are being watched at all times. Our society needs this if we are not to alternate between tyrannies of Dom Mintoffs and Joseph Muscats who are energised by impunity and sheltered by our pathological deference to demigods in authority.
For this to happen polemical writing must bite. It must, necessarily offend. We are all free to ignore it but we do so at our peril as we would if we ignored or even threatened our literal bathroom mirror when it reminds us of the imperfections we would rather ignore.
Does the fact that a polemicist rub salt in our inevitable imperfections require them to be pure before they cast their stones? Not in the real world. Their own imperfections, as inevitable as everybody else’s, are irrelevant. It is just not the point.
Voltaire’s line that he would die for the right of people to say what he disapproves of is not just a hollow motto. It is a principle.
I learnt that lesson in real life from one who taught me much of what I know: Austin Gatt. Many will remember the incident when he visited university as transport minister at the end of that first summer of the new bus service when people had few reasons to be happy with what they were getting. A student confronted him in front of a crowd and called him a “fucking wanker”.
Most people’s instinct might have been to brand her an attention seeker, and she may very well have been. Or to assume she was politically motivated in a partisan sense of that term. As it turned out she was.
But Austin Gatt’s response publicly and privately was that a student frustrated by unsatisfactory services faced with the opportunity of confronting a minister anywhere in the democratic world would have done exactly the same. That’s what students should be doing in a democracy: calling ministers fucking wankers whether they deserve it or not. If students do not do this they are but another brick in the wall.
Inasmuch as a student’s behaviour ought not to be measured by the motivations of politicians, it is a mistake to make assumptions on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s motivations. She has no intention of running for office so popularity in the affirmative sense of the word holds no interest for her. She does not need to be liked.
Her’s is a literary form. It is an artistic expression, not a political program. An artist expresses her art for its intrinsic value as it comes to her and as her skills interpret it and represent it. No artist would begrudge applause. But the pursuit of applause is dishonest and a distraction from the inherent purpose of art.
People are acting surprised because Daphne Caruana Galizia criticises today people she was full of praise for yesterday. People are acting surprised because she quotes as authorities people she termed lunatic yesterday.
That would be odd behaviour indeed for a politician or even a journalist acting on the brief of a political party.
But people need to realise understanding Daphne Caruana Galizia lies in the phrase that is often used for her as a form of insult. “She has her own agenda”. Of course she does. And consistency is optional and loyalty to any party’s program is out of the question. Yes she chooses to reveal the facts she wants to when she pleases. She criticises people she disagrees with and holds back on criticising people she happens to be fine with; switching those categories at will.
The problem to our democracy is not that Daphne Caruana Galizia does that. The problem is she is the only one doing it: that no one else is picking up the stories that do not feature on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s agenda on any given Sunday.
Speaking for myself, I have no intention of being a polemicist even if I feel there is a grotesque vacuum that needs filling. There are vacancies for consistent strikers with the national football team as well and I’m not going to fill that vacancy either. Neither job is within my aptitude or inclination.
But she cannot be blamed for being alone. That much, in Voltarian terms as it were, needs to be said.
Our democracy will work better if we expect less deference in our political discourse. We just have to become a lot less touchy than we are. We need to learn as individuals to be critical in our assessment of what we read and grow out of the mental laziness to expect journalists to belong to either side of a clean dichotomy which is either Labour or Nationalist.
We need to stop asking ourselves whether “Daphne is with us or against us”. She’s neither. Face it. In a world that is not black and white she is neither wrong all the time and should be banished nor right all the time and should be idolised.
We need to grow up enough to be able to agree and disagree with the same person and to say so without somehow feeling betrayed by them or that we’re betraying them.
Reading what otherwise sensible people are writing on Facebook about “shutting Daphne up”, “sweeping the blogger away” and other frankly horrific notions reveals a stunning democratic immaturity. I do not expect these antidaphneites (who were her biggest fans but a season ago) to don balaclavas to shoot Daphne Caruana Galizia like those evil, moralising idiots killed the Charlie Hebdo staff. But they sure are using their language.
I personally do not know Mark Grech, Pierre Paul Portelli and the other young PN activists Daphne Caruana Galizia targeted these last few days because she disapproves of their support for Adrian Delia. I do know Dione Borg rather well and during the election campaign I met briefly Mario Frendo.
Though I do not know them personally they are friends of friends of mine who tell me that they are all genuine hard-working public-spirited people who sacrifice much for good of party and country.
This makes Daphne Caruana Galizia’s criticism of them to me, one of those occasions where I disagree strongly with her choices. It is, I suppose, why she is what I would never be.
I disapprove of some of the things she says and today is one of those days.
But I don’t think anyone needs to go in a corner crying or let loose the dogs of war. The lads who got in her sights have had a rough couple of days. Dust yourselves off chaps and get on with the job of doing what you think is best for party and country. Use this occasion not to ignore the criticism you have received but to assess your convictions again. You can only rely on your own conscience. Make your choice, live by it and be prepared every day to defend it as there will always be people who disagree with you, some of theme even as sharp, articulate and biting as Daphne Caruana Galizia. Most people should be so lucky.
If we are to be truly democratic let us have the courage of our convictions and offer to die for her right to say what we disapprove of. Anything less and there will be one other major hypocritical wart for our only polemicist to do our society the favour of poking bloody.
Let us remember our vocation as a Nationalist Party of building a modern, democratic and open European society in Malta. Some would call it a liberal society.
In democratic European societies political parties do not own, employ and control journalists, TV and radio stations and dailies and weeklies. Instead they deliver their message best they can and journalists are usually in the employ of organisations who have an altogether different agenda than that of the parties and the politicians they cover.
Control of media is one power modern European political parties do not have. Nor do they have the power to tell journalists to shut up or to restrain their “personal attacks”, a petty schoolyard description of polemical journalism if ever there was one.
Having a journalist whose agenda is only her own and not of any political party or even of a commercial conglomerate is a mitigating blessing in the primordial, illiberal media landscape we still have in this country.
Who else is stepping up?