The Council of Europe press freedom platform has taken up the threat made against The Shift by Croatian Kristijan Curavić, the man behind the White Flag scheme, who demanded a payment of €300,000 for damages he claims to have suffered as a result of articles exposing his scams.
The threat was registered on the Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists on Thursday as Level 2, which refers to serious threats to media freedom including physical assaults, acts of intimidation and harassment.
The alert was submitted by the European Centre for Media and Press Freedom (ECPMF).
— CoE Media Freedom (@CoEMediaFreedom) April 16, 2020
Curavić’s demand made last month through his legal representatives in Croatia was for The Shift to deposit €300,000 into his bank account within 15 days, together with a public apology published on The Shift that included a correction of “all false allegations”.
The Shift refuted all claims made in the letter, standing by its reporting and published the letter sent by Curavić. The Shift replied it was prepared to present its evidence and witnesses in court to corroborate its articles.
Thought up by Curavić, the White Flag project was meant to classify the marine environment around Malta’s beaches as ‘plastic-free’. Curavić sold the White Flag to the Maltese government and raked in thousands in sponsorships from different Ministries as well as private businesses with little to show for it.
Curavić left Malta soon after The Shift’s revelations and never returned, leaving private businesses that had funded his project seeking to take legal action to get back their money. The Gozo Ministry alone signed a contract worth €29,000 for two White Flags, which The Shift revealed following a Freedom of Information request.
The Council of Europe’s journalism safety platform has eight alerts related to Malta – these include SLAPP suits filed by the owner of Satabank, the lockdown of journalists in the Prime Minister’s office following a late night press conference, and the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. It also lists four libel suits filed by former Economy Minister Chris Cardona against Caruana Galizia.
Threats to journalists in Malta are also given a special mention in Council of Europe’s platform’s 2019 report Democracy at risk: Threats and attacks against media freedom in Europe, which noted that Malta still had over 30 defamation lawsuits pending against Caruana Galizia, filed before her death.