Austria’s prime minister ridiculed after aides photoshop woman with ‘massive joint’ out of publicity photo

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Austria’s chancellor has faced ridicule in his home country after his party’s press team doctored a photograph of him to remove an image of a woman appearing to smoke a massive joint.

Sebastian Kurz was pictured during an official visit to the western Austrian state of Vorarlberg, where he met regional governor and ÖVP party colleague Markus Wallner.

A photograph of the pair posted on social media to illustrate the visit showed the two politicians talking in front of a framed picture of a wholesome mountain landscape.

Eagle-eyed Austrian social media users however quickly found the original photograph, which showed the real picture frame actually contained the image of a woman smoking a suspiciously large hand-rolled cigarette before it was sanitised for the public by the governor’s aides.

The incident fired the imagination of meme-lovers across the country, who produced their own photoshopped versions with different images in the picture frame – including some of other Austrian politicians smoking cigarettes, and satirical references to issues of the day.

“If the governing coalition had not overturned the smoking ban, would such images in restaurants already be banned – or am I mistaken?” joked one user, David Höfel on Mr Wallner’s Facebook page – a reference to one of the government’s recent policies.

Opposition politicians seized on the incident, which they suggested was emblematic of the politicians’ slick and highly controlled public images.

“This may seem superficially funny. In principle, however, it is about deliberate falsification of information on behalf of a governor, centre-left SPÖ member of parliament Manuela Auer said, according to local news outlet Vorarlberg Online.

“Therefore, it is important to take a closer look. The crucial question is: can it be ruled out that this is an isolated case?” 

The opposition party is planning to launch an inquiry into whether such manipulation of photographs is route in the governor’s office.

“From history, we know how sensitive it is to distort information. In a democracy, such a process is unforgivable,” Ms Auer added.

In a statement released after the furore, Mr Wallner apologised for the photoshopping.

“As you may have noticed, my social media team unfortunately has been an unfortunate mistake,” he said.

“The fact that the image was changed subsequently was not all right, but at the same time the first and only time that this was done on my side. We would like to apologise for that.”

Mr Kurz is Europe’s youngest leader, born in 1986 and currently aged just 31. A right-wing conservative, he is in coalition with the support of the far-right FPÖ.