Austrian far-right leader apologises for 'fake-news' accusation, fined €10,000

Head of Austria's far-right Freedom party Heinz-Christian Strache will make a printed and online apology as well as pay €10,000 in damages after accusing a state broadcaster and its star news presenter of lying.

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Austrian far-right leader apologises for 'fake-news' accusation, fined €10,000

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Austria's Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the far-right Freedom party, has apologised to journalist Armin Wolf and his employer — public broadcaster ORF — for accusing them of lying.

Strache's apology is part of a settlement deal after the journalist filed a defamation suit with a criminal court in Vienna.

Credit: Armin Wolf
The apology as it appeared in Kronen newspaper. Credit: Armin Wolf

It will appear in the country's Kronen newspaper for a period of 10 days starting Wednesday and will also be published on the politician's Facebook page.

Strache posted a picture of Wolf on Facebook two weeks ago accompanied by the words: “There is a place where lies become news. That place is ORF.”

Strache will also pay €10,000 in compensation to the journalist, according to his spokesperson.

Wolf said he wants to give the money to the Dokumentationsarchiv für den Österreichischen Widerstand — an Austria research institution that deals with Nazi crimes, right-wing extremism after 1945, and victims' reparations.

He referred Euronews to his blog post on the case when asked for comment.

It read: "I was not interested in bringing a politician to court, but in making it clear that, despite all the justified and necessary criticism of the work of journalists and the media, there are limits to the work of journalists and the media, where it becomes personally defamatory."

ORF also filed a lawsuit against the politician — an unprecedented move in Austria’s post-war democracy.

"Vice-chancellor Strache accused ORF, by doctoring ORF advertising material, of spreading fake news, lies and propaganda in all its media,” ORF director general Alexander Wrabetz said in a statement, adding that the text was “libellous and damaging to (ORF’s) reputation”.

The vice-chancellor did not comment directly on the civil case that ORF filed against him.

What did Strache's apology say?

I declared on February 13, 2018, in a post on my private Facebook page: There is a place where lies and fake news become news. These are the ORF and the Facebook profile of Armin Wolf.' This statement was incorrect and I apologise to Armin Wolf and the ORF staff for this inaccurate statement. I expressly state that I have always regarded Dr Armin Wolf as a highly correct and professional journalist. I, therefore, withdraw my statement, which was quoted at the beginning and published on my Facebook account, as false.

Strache has been vocal about wanting to scrap the licence fee in Austria, which funds ORF.

He wants to replace it with direct funding from the government that would come with “efficiency” requirements.