Barack Obama and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The fake story said 77 percent of rural white Americans would rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than Barack Obama (Reuters) Reuters

An Iranian news agency has apologised after it reported as fact a spoof article that originally featured on the US satirical website The Onion.

The original article quoted an invented Gallup opinion poll saying that 77 percent of rural white Americans would rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than Barack Obama.

The joke poll was picked up by Iran's Fars News Agency (FNA) and sent out as an actual story.

The story released by the agency included made-up quotes taken from The Onion's original, suggesting voters preferred Ahmadinejad as he did not hide the fact that he was a Muslim. He wouldn't "let some gay protesters tell him how to run his country like Obama does", the story continued.

FNA said it ran the story as fact because it believed it was possible that US voters would prefer to vote for anyone other than Obama.

In a statement, the FNA's editor-in-chief said: "Unfortunately an incorrect item was released on our website which included a fake opinion poll on the popularity rating of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and US president Barack Obama.

"The news item was extracted from The Onion by mistake and it was taken down from our outlook in less two hours.

"We offer our formal apologies for that mistake.

"FNA makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of its reports. However, very occasionally mistakes do happen.

"Although it does not justify our mistake, we do believe that if a free opinion poll is conducted in the US, a majority of Americans would prefer anyone outside the US political system to President Barack Obama and American statesmen."

This was not the first time a spoof article in The Onion has been reproduced elsewhere as fact.

In 2010, US site FoxNation ran a story from the site that claimed that Obama had sent a 75,000-word email to everyone in the US.

Bangladeshi newspapers The Daily Manab Zamin and The New Nation were also forced to apologise after running a false story which claimed Neil Armstrong had admitted that the moon landing was an "elaborate hoax".

The papers grudgingly admitted: "We didn't know The Onion was not a real news site."