February 26, 2018 / 9:54 PM / a year ago

Austrian broadcaster sues far-right leader over fake news claim

Austria's Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache addresses the media after a cabinet meeting in Vienna, Austria, January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s public broadcaster ORF has taken the highly unusual step of filing a lawsuit against the deputy head of the government, it said on Monday, after he accused it and its star news presenter of lying.

Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, who heads the far-right Freedom Party, has long accused the broadcaster of left-wing bias. He has said he plans to ensure it must report more objectively and scrap the licence fee that funds it.

Two weeks ago Strache posted a picture on Facebook of ORF news presenter Armin Wolf with the words: “There is a place where lies become news. That place is ORF.”

Wolf has sued Strache, saying no politician has accused him of lying before. ORF, which had already demanded an apology from Strache, said on Monday it had brought its own case against the vice chancellor.

“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 brief statement, adding that the text was “libellous and damaging to (ORF’s) reputation” it said.

ORF said it was also taking legal action against Facebook for not acceding to its request that Strache’s posting be deleted.

Strache has argued that because he added the one-word caption “Satire!” to his posting it was clearly a prank to mark Mardi Gras.

But in accordance with legal practice in Austria, he posted a legal text on Facebook in the early hours of Saturday that made clear a court had found Wolf’s case was well founded, though a full ruling has yet to be reached.

President Alexander Van der Bellen has also condemned the remarks made by Strache, whose party is the junior coalition partner to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alison Williams

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