It was on Wednesday 8th February that Malta’s media world came to an abrupt standstill to stand in shock at what they were witnessing. For context, on this day Government minister Chris Cardona and his aide Joseph Gerada announced that not only would they be filing civil libel suits against blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia; but they would also be hitting her with a garnishee order amounting to 47,460. Such an action basically freezes that amount of money in the account of the victim and renders it useless. The legal action comes as a result of allegations that Caruana Galizia made against Cardona, saying that he and Gerada visited a German brothel called FKK Acapulco whilst they were on official duty.
Right, those are the bare facts of this case; now here’s my bare opinion. Whether you see Daphne Caruana Galizia as the second Messiah or as the wicked witch of Bidnija is totally irrelevant in this matter. What is absolutely relevant is how disgraceful the action taken by Chris Cardona is. This isn’t just an attack on one journalist; it is an attack on free speech as a whole. It’s the first time that such a garnishee order has ever been used on a journalist and the only reason that it has been used is for a personal vendetta against someone who is never afraid of seeking the facts. Such a flaunting of power is not only irresponsible, it’s also the act of a 9 year old.
The repercussions that this could have for our journalistic sector are widespread. How can a journalist be expected to keep chasing the truth when in the back of his mind he knows that someone who may be a victim of one of his stories has no problem bringing financial ruin and disgrace into his life. Control of freedom of speech is something that is nearly always the first to be imposed in a totalitarian state (see; Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and the book 1984). Surely the Labour Government wouldn’t stoop that low. And yet, there is no condemnation at all forthcoming from the government camp. Are we to believe that our government will get behind the willful censorship of journalists?
However you may be thinking that I’m insufficiently rambling like a baboon who’s misplaced his dinner. No problem; however we’re getting you a second opinion. We spoke to NET News’ experienced journalist Mario Frendo, who gave The Yuppie exclusive comments on the matter.
“The nature of journalists’ role in society places them, automatically, in a more vulnerable position and for this reason the State has a duty not only to protect journalists in terms of their constitutional right to expression, but afford even higher protection so as to ensure that no operation of the law works to discourage, intimidate or gag journalists. This is why, for example, thousands of people in their right senses condemned Minister Chris Cardona’s decision to request the Court to freeze the assets of a journalist who had exposed his behaviour while on official duty abroad.”
“Let’s be clear – freezing of assets is not illegal. But when used to harass a journalist, then it will be transformed into an immoral means of harassment – which should, in a normal democracy, be frowned upon. Why? The answer is simple: the chilling effect. If we want to ensure that the ‘democracy machine’ keeps functioning as it should, then we cannot allow the employment of any form of harassment, legal or not, that will most likely have a chilling-effect in that third party journalists are discouraged from conducting their duties and keeping Government accountable.”
The more naïve/brainwashed could say that this is merely a one-off and that Daphne had it coming. However in truth, where will this stop? What will stop the dear minister or any other member of the government from filing a garnishee order against a journalist (doing his job please note) because a story that he doesn’t like appears?What will stop the government from destroying the livelihood of these individuals, individuals who are the champions of freedom of speech and the cornerstones of democracy? Absolutely nothing.