Various national newspapers earlier this week published the heartbreaking story of a Kurdish boy from the southeastern province of Mardin who got accepted to the University of Oxford in the UK, but lost his chance of admission after his mother accidentally burned his invitation letter.
The editors of at least four newspapers and various websites ran the story without questioning whether such a loss of documents would disqualify a student who had been accepted. However, this wasn't the only dubious fact they missed. According to the story, Şeyhmus Kino, the hapless student, was accepted by Oxford for his outstanding talent as an auspicious young painter after winning a TL 350,000 award (note that the currency was in Turkish) at an art contest in Germany, but donated the money to Somali famine victims. The stories also made clear that Kino and his mother, who appear to live inside a tent, are financially struggling.
“This student has neither been offered a place to study nor a scholarship at the University of Oxford. The university has no record of a student of that name applying to study here,” a university spokesperson responded to an email query from Today's Zaman. “Losing an offer letter would not disqualify a student from being admitted to Oxford,” he added.
Even Turkey's chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış was moved. He personally called the local education director to sort out the mess Kino was in.
But how did this happen? Should these editors be questioning their own professional standing? There are, in fact, a few reasons to cut them some slack. For one, Kino, whose cellphone was turned off and who wasn't at his Mardin “workshop” according to area reporters who looked for him, had been getting financial support from the Mardin District Governor's Office. Nezir Güneş, a DHA news agency correspondent who talked to Kino and his mother, said all background checks with officials at the governor's office and the local education directorate had been cleared. “He has been getting support for the past two years,” he said. Güneş also now says that none of the “paintings” that he said belonged to Kino were actually painted by him.
Media critic Ragıp Duran said the appeal of such tabloid stories was universal. “People have won Pulitzers with fabricated stories,” he told Today's Zaman. He also noted that running a front-page story without sifting it through any sieve was a common practice in the Turkish press. He also noted that this case was significant. “This is a ‘success story,' the kind of story we want to believe. He is from Mardin, Kızıltepe, and he became a conman instead of a terrorist,” he said, laughing.
On a serious note, he said that the will to believe in such success stories is embedded in the Turkish psyche, making both editors -- and their readers -- more vulnerable. “We need these success stories, and we need the ‘international' approval,” he said. Duran noted that it made sense to use “awards” won abroad in such stories, as it would take more time to disprove in comparison with a local story.
Dilek Hayırlı, an editor for Zaman, one of the several papers that ran the story, said: “We did find it dubious, but we trusted the agencies. Also, it is the kind of story that really pulls on your heartstrings. I guess we all wanted to hear that kind of a success story.”