I will mainly talk about journalism in Turkey but let me start first with my profession. Academia in Turkey is still unfortunately stunted. We have a countless number of professors, but very few of them have international stature. I know that academics do not have to be celebrities and there is no need for a popularity contest in academia. What I am saying is that there are only a few academics, especially in the social sciences, who are known among their international peers.
How many of our academics are cited and quoted by non-Turkish scholars abroad? How many of them are recognized for their contribution to their field? How many of them are invited by their peers to international conferences? Very few. New generation academics are of course better and I see them wherever I go. They are no longer talking about Turkish issues at the conferences but all sorts of social science topics.
Their steadily increasing number is not enough but their existence is promising. Unfortunately, our social science academics seem to consider specialization as an under-achievement. We have experts who are experts on at least 10 different topics or areas. Take me, for example, as a humble child of Shallow-land, my embarrassing CV shows that despite my self-restraint, I have not resisted the temptation and have succumbed to write on Muslim legal pluralism, the Muslim minority in the UK, Islamism, Islamic movements, Turkish politics and so on. I am ashamed of my CV, which with the exception of “pipe line politics” includes almost everything. When we act like an expert on all these issues, we are inevitably destined to be shallow. Only a few of us can speak about our papers and books with Western academic audiences and elicit a sense of respect.
The same goes for our media. We only have a few good journalists who have specialized in a few areas and acquired international quality, stature and so on. We do not have many investigative journalists. Our journalists seem to prepare their news on the basis of the speeches of politicians, ready reports, press releases and so on. The country’s agenda is so hyper-actively dynamic that there is never enough time to focus deeply on any issue in our “shallow-land.” We speak about a serious issue for one day or maximum a week and then move on to another maybe more important issue. You read about a serious issue and expect that our journalists would follow it doggedly, but no, the very next day, the issue is forgotten.
Take a very simple example. A top bureaucrat was pictured with his watch when signing an agreement and some opposition journalists wrote that it is worth $200,000. The next day, another media outlet wrote that no, it is “only” $20,000, without any criticism, questioning or anything about the wealth, family financial trajectory or at least the salary of the bureaucrat. No one even asked him how he could afford it. I am over-generalizing, but despite the honorable exceptions, the whole picture is this. When you have such academia and media, you get politicians of the shallow-land. Unless, the exceptions become the rule, we deserve our politicians.