Poilievre should beware of tying himself to Musk

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In reaching out to Elon Musk, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre left the impression he’s trashing Canadian broadcasters while aligning himself with a billionaire who has turned the social media world upside down.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on April 24, 2023.

OTTAWA–BuzzFeed News is shutting down and Twitter users are fleeing the platform in droves. Fox News has been hit with a $787.5-million lawsuit for publishing false information about Dominion Voting Systems presidential election count in 2020. The media world—social and otherwise—is roiling.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre reached out to Elon Musk, the current owner of Twitter, to ensure the company identifies the CBC as a government-funded media outlet. Political parties are lining up on one side or the other of the media divide.

To fight back, CBC has joined the “Global Task Force for Public Media,” whose aim is to underscore the fact that editorial independence is protected by law. No government has any influence on what to cover. The task force is accusing Twitter of misrepresenting their editorial independence.

While the Fox saga was unfolding in the United States, it involved Dominion, a Canadian-founded company.

In Canada, last week’s media attention was largely focused on the Twitter fight between Poilievre and the CBC.

Poilievre went hard after the CBC in English, but was strangely silent in French. He has pledged to fully defund the CBC, but at the same time, he says the Radio-Canada arm of the organization should remain.

His call to defund the CBC cites the total annual $1.24-billion federal government subsidy. That promise has created a tidal wave of opposition in Quebec.

The Twitter attack succeeded in drawing attention to the Conservatives’ plan to cancel funding for the CBC, which may not have been in the party’s game plan.

Defunding the CBC is obviously very popular with Poilievre’s base. But the same cannot be said for the rest of the country.

In Quebec, Radio-Canada is untouchable, and Poilievre’s Twitter attack woke the province up to his plan, but not in a good way.

Both the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois attacked Poilievre. His decision to make a “government-funded” tagline plea to an American billionaire raised the ire of just about everyone.

That outreach also hurt him in the rest of the country, even with those who are not the strongest supporters of the CBC.

It left the impression that Poilievre was trashing his own country’s broadcasters while aligning himself with Musk, who has turned the social media world upside down with his Twitter changes.

While Poilievre’s popularity numbers remain competitive, he cannot win the election with a wipeout in Quebec.

And a campaign promise to cancel funding for Radio-Canada will certainly gain him no friends in La belle province.

In response to the “government-funded” tagline, the CBC announced it would no longer be using Twitter to cross-pollinate radio and television stories.

Other users have also been dropping off en masse, but it is unclear at this point which alternate social media site will fill in the gap left by the Twitter exodus.

South of the border, what could be the world’s largest defamation decision made waves in media outlets everywhere, except on the Fox News Channel.

The culpable channel only broadcast the Dominion payout three times, with a total of about six minutes of coverage.

While the financial outcome of the case was stunning, the agreement did not force Fox media personalities to apologize or acknowledge the lies. Instead, a statement issued by the corporation was the only recognition that multiple lies were repeated on the network in an effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from Donald Trump.

A Fox statement acknowledged “the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”

Legal trouble in pursuit of the truth does not end there. Dominion is also following up on defamation cases against other news outlets and Trump lawyers and supporters, including Rudy Giuliani.

Meanwhile, Fox’s Tucker Carlson has just produced a documentary suggesting the United States should move in to take over Canada and liberate it from Justin Trudeau’s communist tyranny.

Carlson may not realize it, but Poilievre should know that a Fox attack on the Liberal leader will actually push more people into Trudeau’s corner.

By allying himself with Musk, the Tory leader runs the risk of alienating Canadians.

The media landscape is changing rapidly, in Canada and globally. The Dominion defamation suit reaffirms that the truth matters when it comes to broadcasting, but Twitter can hang a false handle on the CBC with impunity.

Musk’s rocket blew up last week. So may Twitter.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.