This is the fourth in a series of posts celebrating the women fighting for positive change in our world. Today we’re talking to Megan, a writer and campaigner for justice for Daphne – not least of all because she is Daphne’s niece.
Megan Mallia is studying media and communications at university. Human rights and press freedom are things that are very close to her heart, more so because Daphne Caruana Galizia was one of her aunts.
1) You have credited your aunt Daphne Caruana Galizia with inspiring you to write. In the wake of her assassination you simultaneously write for Taste & Flair (which Daphne founded and edited) and your own Purple Pen blog. The former is a cultural magazine, the latter reflects on Daphne and the aftermath of her murder. Do you anticipate your writing bridging creative and political writing like your aunt?
I have always loved writing. My aunt Daphne encouraged me, both directly and indirectly. Over the years she gave me plenty of gorgeous notebooks and fascinating books on all topics. Her indirect encouragement came from her own writing. It was how she wrote, the language she used, her style, and how varied the subjects she wrote about were. She could be detailing a scandal on her blog and simultaneously be writing an article for her food and interiors magazine, Taste&Flair.
The first article I ever wrote for Taste&Flair was for the issue of November 2017, which was due to be published two weeks after Daphne’s assassination. It was a joint feature I did with my sister in which we decided to write about things Daphne loved. Writing for the magazine my aunt founded and edited is a true privilege, and I contribute whenever I can whether in the form of photography or writing. My aunt Corinne, Daphne’s sister, has become the executive editor and is doing a beautiful job.
I do not really call ‘Purple Pen’ a blog because it is just an account I created on Instagram to share quotations taken from Daphne’s writing, both from her political work and her magazine articles, and some from other people. Blog or not, it is a way of communicating the importance of freedom of expression and sharing Daphne’s story.
I suppose my writing does take two forms, a creative one for Taste&Flair, and a perhaps more political one for the short pieces I sometimes write under my posts on Purple Pen. I like both kinds of writing. Still, I believe that what my writing hardly compares to my aunt’s.
2) On the 25th of October 2017 you said it was Daphne “who introduced me to the love of putting pen to paper and believing that words can have power. They really do”. do you still believe that, nearly 2 years later? Not least of all in a world of rapidly shrinking attention spans, and especially given Malta’s poor literacy rate and the manner in which words are skewed by the government?
As I said before, my aunt was definitely my inspiration to start writing. Every month I would wait eagerly until my parents came home with the newspaper on Sunday to fish out Taste&Flair and sink right into it. I loved seeing what my aunt did with it. Now that I am older, I can appreciate it far more than I did when I was still young and simply able to read the words without taking proper notice of my aunt’s style and idiosyncratic way with words.
Daphne showed me how powerful words are whenever she really called a spade a spade on her blog, which was every day, and whenever she did so so effectively that the person she was writing about sued her for what they said was ‘libellous’. Her writing, her journalism, drove the wicked to kill her.
Of course I still believe that words are powerful. Yes, it is true that as time goes by and social media becomes the new bible, attention-economy becomes a problem and words seem to matter less. Yes, low literacy rates are a hindrance, and I am a firm believer that not encouraging reading in children is partly what fuels this. And yes, words are corrupted by government propaganda so frequently, just as George Orwell used to write so much about. In all of these cases, I still stand strongly by my view that words are powerful tools and education perhaps more so, that people need to be taught to think and not take anything at face value.
3) You’ve mentioned being, like Daphne, an inherently shy person. And yet you were reported as delivering a fairly impassioned criticism to Education Minister Evarist Bartolo at University: do you think your desire to express yourself might extend beyond writing at some point in the future?
I am shy. Up until I was about sixteen years old, I would clam up so completely in class when given the chance to speak that I would hardly raise my hand to give it a go. I think I began to gradually let that silence seep away when things like the Panama Papers started happening. I was all for the class discussions.
Even now, after speaking at a few of the vigils held in Daphne’s memory, I still get shy when speaking in front of a group. My speaking out against the education system to a group that included Minister for Education Evarist Bartolo was an impromptu thing. I had not planned to do it. The event, which was open to the public, was a discussion about racism, organised after the murder of Lassana Cisse.
Lack of education feeds racism, and racism is so connected to injustice. ‘Racism and ignorance go hand in hand,’ my aunt had written once. The education system in Malta fails because it does not allow students the freedom to think for themselves. With a trembling hand and a hammering heart, then, I told Evarist Bartolo precisely what I felt.
I think I prefer expressing myself through writing because I feel more comfortable with it. Having said that though, actually speaking out, when the time calls for it, can create an impact. When I spoke out during that event, Evarist Bartolo could not look me in the eye.
4) Does the title “activist” sit comfortably with you?
I am active, but calling myself an ‘activist’ feels odd because it should be natural to want to defend your rights. I think everyone should engage in activism. Small acts of protest, no matter how small, make a huge difference.
5) What are your thoughts about your peers’ understanding of democracy, activism and protest? What is the atmosphere on University campus like?
At vigils held in Daphne’s memory, or any protest related to democracy, there are hardly ever any people my age. Yet so many will be present at a protest about environmental destruction.
I feel that my peers believe that the environment is more important than the rule of law and justice for the assassination of a journalist in a European democracy. The environment is important, but there can be no mitigation of environmental destruction if the rule of law is under attack. When I marched with other students at the climate protest earlier this year, I made a poster with a quotation from my aunt: ‘where environmental destruction is greatest, so is corruption’. A number of my peers criticised me for ‘politicising’ the protest with my aunt’s words. why hadn’t they said that about the minister who led the march, when we were, after all, protesting against the system he formed part of? There is a lack of understanding that everything is connected to the state of the rule of law.
There needs to be more discussion about freedom of expression and Daphne’s case on university campus and in schools. When her name is uttered, people either grimace or shrug. Many say it’s too ‘political’. There is an innate division of party colours amongst a lot of students, and because of that they are blind to the fact that Daphne was a journalist who did as she was meant to do: criticise where criticism is needed. Very often, there is simply a lack of care about her assassination and what it means for students and for our country. I also think that many fear showing their faces.
6) You were recently heckled at the protest memorial in Valletta, have you ever felt personally intimidated or threatened and, if so, where do you draw sustenance from to overcome it?
I can take hecklers and trolls. They are awful to have to deal with, but I remind myself that they are indoctrinated and have nothing better to do with their time. They simply aren’t worth a second thought. What I face does not compare at all to what Daphne faced constantly during her life. She was harassed continually throughout her thirty years of writing. Her family is targeted by trolls more so now that she is no longer here. Activists and others who speak out are heckled online and offline, too.
The thing is to carry on despite the heckling and harassing, because it is silence they are after. My aunt’s writing had one poignant element: her determined, fighting spirit. It is a great part of what keeps me going.
7) How has your perception of Malta changed in recent years?
After my aunt’s assassination, my perception of Malta changed completely. It was already shifting when she broke particular stories, and when the libel suits filed against her were increasing and her bank account was frozen by Minister for the Economy Chris Cardona. The 16th October 2017, however, was the culmination of the change in my mindset about my country.
The ugliness present in society has come out in full force over these past two years. Yet at the same time, although it sounds counterintuitive, so has the beauty. I have met so many wonderful people, Maltese and foreign, who believe in justice as much as I do, and who have promised to continue fighting for justice for Daphne and her stories for as long as they can. They range from five years-old to a hundred. Little acts of kindness show me that Maltese society is not what I thought it was right after my aunt’s assassination. There is still some good left.
8) Do you have a career in mind? And will you stay in Malta to pursue it?
Well, I can say that I shall forever be unable to picture myself as a lawyer. A lot of people ask me why I did not choose to read for a degree in law, which always puzzles me. I am passionate about media, the flow of information through society, and the protection of journalists and journalism, and will see where that takes me.
9) How else has Daphne inspired you and who else are you inspired by?
Daphne has always inspired me to be true to myself. This could be in relation to standing up and fighting injustice, my choice of studies, or even with regard to style. I never saw her dress in plain black without a speck of colour. And her jewellery – ! She had a passion for upcycling old pieces of furniture with decoupage and turning unwanted necklaces and bracelets into gorgeous new accessories. These are hobbies I myself have had for as long as I could hold a paintbrush and thread a needle, and I have embraced them more these past two years.
Daphne loved her family and her friends. She made time for her loved ones even when there seemed to be no time to do so with her work. I greatly look up to her parents, my grandparents, who are so strong and wonderful. Daphne’s husband Peter, too, and her three sons, who are so brilliant and unwavering in this fight. Her three sisters, as well. My mother, one of her sisters, is not like other mothers I know. When others would scold and fuss about their children’s academic performance, my mother would tell me to do my best and learn from where I went wrong. She also brought me up to stand up to injustice.
I am very much inspired by the activists who do so much for Daphne’s cause, as well as organisations like Reporters Without Borders and PEN International to name just two. Journalists who are committed to holding power to account have my deep respect and admiration. Women like Margaret Atwood, for her brilliant writing, and Malala Yousafzai, who stood up to the Taliban, are people I look up to as well.
10) What does Malta’s future look like to you?
I have hope for Malta’s future. If a public inquiry is done and the investigations into Daphne’s assassination do go somewhere, then I believe that things will get better. Justice for Daphne means that there is also justice for her stories, which then means that the people she wrote about are prosecuted and made to pay for their crimes. Things will only improve if more people show their faces and make their voices heard. Complacency is equal to being complicit in the face of impunity and injustice.
11) If you had one message to deliver to the people of Malta what would it be?
Daphne wrote and fought relentlessly for over thirty years to bring you information you had the right to, even when she was threatened and harassed. Do not let another individual be singled out in the fight for truth. Speak out for yourself and the people you love. This is our country, and I refuse to sit silent as greed and wickedness takes over. Please do your bit.