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SALDEF Major News Outlets Remove Image Linking Sikhs To Osama Bin Laden


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
On Friday, May 6th, two major news outlets, CNN and Financial Times (FT), published online articles about Osama bin Laden using images of a Sikh to supplement the news stories. Both images were featured on the outlets’ homepages and were likely viewed by millions of readers.

Within minutes of the images being published, SALDEF contacted editors at both outlets and alerted them to the inappropriate use of the image. CNN removed the image from its homepage within thirty minutes and FT removed the image within three hours.

FT acknowledged the error and provided a written apology. SALDEF is currently pursuing an apology from CNN and seeking an opportunity to conduct a presentation for the CNN staff, as this is the third instance within the last two years that they have inappropriately used images of Sikhs.

In letters to the media outlets, Jasjit Singh, SALDEF Associate Executive Director, stated, “Normally, we would be pleased that [CNN / FT] is using the image of a Sikh to show how the general public is reacting to a story. In this case however, the image negatively impacts the Sikh American community and increases the likelihood of bias against community members by conflating our identity with that of Osama bin Laden.”

SALDEF appreciates the rapid response from both news outlets and is thankful to community members who alerted us about this issue. If you see misrepresentations of Sikhs or the Sikh faith in the media, please contact us.



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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Forum members,

This article appearing at SikhChic gives the background for the current update from SALDEF. We suspected that the picture had been changed when we tried to trace the original article, "A Debate over the Legality of Killing bin Laden". When this article was located on the CNN web site, the picture had been changed. SALDEF's press release above explains what happened. Tha

Dear Mr. Estenson: An Open Letter to CNN


Mr Kenneth "KC" Estenson



Dear Mr Estenson:

On Thursday, May 5, 2011, CNN.com ran a story, "A Debate over the Legality of Killing bin Laden".

This is a legitimate debate.

That is, until you look at the image that accompanied the article - A Sikh gentleman reading a Punjabi newspaper (with the terrorist's image on a newspaper in the foreground).

The photo you used is reproduced on this page.

The article is absolutely unconnected to the Sikh community in general and nowhere does it mention anything whatsoever about Sikhs.

I fail to comprehend why an image of a Sikh gentleman was used in the article in question, when AFP/Getty images would have thousands of images of the men actually talked about in the article.

This is not the first time a similar careless and negligent connection has been made through misused images between Sikhs and the bin Laden/Taliban/Al Qaida situation.

Is CNN out to malign the Sikh-American community in some way? Are CNN editors somehow biased against the Sikh community?

As innocuous as it may seem to anyone, the image has maligned the Sikh image throughout the world. Visually, it immediately connects the appearance of a Sikh man to the perpetrators of 9/11. To an untrained eye, it simply implies that all turban wearing people are somehow the cause of 9/11 and should be treated in the same manner as the dreaded terrorist.

I cannot stress enough how wrong this connection is, or that how blatantly this connection strikes against the core of the Sikh religious beliefs and ethics.

Sadly, such negligence and careless journalism on your part is contributing to a backlash against the Sikh-American community - a peace loving community that has time and again stood up against all sorts of evil in the world.

The Sikh tradition started more than 500 years ago when the Sikhs stood up against the tyranny and oppression of the Mughal rulers in India. In modern times, it gained worldwide recognition when the Sikhs aided the Allies in both the World Wars.

Your coverage is highly insulting to Sikh-Americans in particular, but also to the 30 million Sikhs who live around the globe.

The havoc thus caused by your callous connection between bin Laden's crimes and a community which has had nothing whatsoever to do with it all, directly or indirectly, is direct - palpable and measureable.

For example, during the decade since the tragic events of 9/11, the following incidents have taken place:
1 In 2001, Mr. Balbir Singh Sodhi, of Mesa, Arizona, was brutally murdered just after the September 11 attacks because the perpetrator equated the turban wearing Sikh gentleman with the heinous people who carried out the attacks on 9/11.

2 In 2006, an elderly Sikh grandfather, Mr. Iqbal Singh, was stabbed in Santa Clara, California, while he was simply enjoying the company of his 2-year old granddaughter.

3 In March 2011, two Sikh gentlemen, Mr. Surinder Singh and Mr. Gurmej Singh Atwal were fatally wounded in Sacramento, California, while enjoying their daily evening walk. Both succumbed to their gun-shot injuries.

These are but three examples. Dozens of such hate crimes have been reported.

The Sikh turban signifies spirituality, honor, civic responsibility, moral and ethical values, courage and friendship - all shared by the American dream.

CNN is a leader in the media space, and you are the leader at CNN. With leadership comes responsibility. And accountability.

By creating and publishing such errorneous and baseless connections, you demean the good name of your organization by spreading falsehoods.

I would urge you to rectify the wrong immediately, and to put a mechanism in place which would prevent such sub-standard journalism from recurring.

As I conclude, I am reminded of Anderson Cooper's "Keeping them Honest" segment on CNN's own AC360.

I ask of you, Mr. Estenson, "Who is keeping CNN honest?"

Sincerely yours,

A.J. Singh.

May 6, 2011



1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Kanwaljit Singh ji

The American media seems to be suffering from an unstoppable downward spiral in common sense and thinking ability. Sorry to say but true. What this means is that at CNN there is no desk editor with enough basic knowledge about the world and life to ask the same question you asked, or perhaps has no knowledge of Sikhs. We are talking about a major cable news organization with worldwide reach.

Just as perplexing is that the image was also posted at FT/Financial Times. No one there recalls that the CEO of CitiBank is a turbaned Sikh?


May 9, 2006
This makes me so angry! :angryyoungkaur:

It would be interesting to see the apology from FT.


Jan 29, 2011
Vancouver, Canada
I just came back from a trip to LA, US and believe me I got my shares of stares. Thankfully my family was with me all the time, it would have been pretty weird to travel alone there.

PS: Add to that I was doing weird things at airport. My flight was late by 3 hours and I was walking from one end of the waiting area to another for 'exercise' :|


ੴ / Ik▫oaʼnkār
Dec 21, 2010
Kanwaljit.Singh ji it is a good thing that you were not walking too briskly or I am sure would have been quickly frisked!

I am shocked at the paranoia about terrorism in USA! One guy tries to light up a shoe bomb and now all Americans take their shoes off! I wonder if some idiot so called brain washed martyr swallowed explosives which needed full body search to discover what will Americans do! The terrorists are achieving their goals so efficiently. Disgusting!

Sat Sri Akal.


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The typical expert analysis of Anju Kaur of Sikh News Network

CNN and Financial Times Remove Sikh Images
FT Apologizes, CNN Repeat Offender

by Anju Kaur

CNN and Financial Times, two international news outlets, on Friday removed images of Sikhs used in their online news reports of Osama bin Laden, on their home pages.

Oddly, both outlets used the same picture of Sikh man reading a newspaper, juxtaposed with an image of bin Laden. Their use of an image of a Sikh man wearing a thaathaa adds to the strangeness of the image choice, said Jasjit Singh associate executive director of SALDEF.

While the CNN article focused on the legality of assassinating bin Laden, the Financial Times article focused on the security and aftermath. It seems that the purpose of using the image of a Sikh was to show worldwide reaction, Jasjit Singh said. But the use of a turbaned and bearded Sikh may be mistaken by the mainstream public as a follower or supporter of bin Laden.

“The Financial Times image was worse because the image of the Sikh was right next to that of bin Laden… People will think they (Sikhs) are Muslim or Al Qaeda,” he said. “The captions did not explain the Sikh in the image… It makes it harder to distinguish the two, and does not help to explain who we are not.

“It’s the sort of challenge we have been facing since 9/11 - to distance Sikhs from the turbaned and bearded extremists.”

Many Sikhs noticed the damaging images on the Web sites.

“Within minutes of the images being published, we received six to seven text messages, emails, and phone calls,” Jasjit Singh told SikhNN. It was clear that “a lot of people were seeing this.”

SALDEF, a Washington-based advocacy group, complained.

“Normally, we would be pleased that [CNN / FT] is using the image of a Sikh to show how the general public is reacting to a story,” it said in an email to both outlets. “In this case, however, the image negatively impacts the Sikh American community and increases the likelihood of bias against community members by conflating our identity with that of Osama bin Laden.”

The Financial Times, based in the United Kingdom, removed the image within three hours and issued an apology.

“We took consideration of your comments and removed the image of the Sikh next to bin Laden on Friday evening,” said Suzanne Blumson, an editor, by email. “Apologies for any offence caused.”

CNN removed the image within 30 minutes but did not apologize.

Through its contact at the Columbia University journalism school, SALDEF received confirmation from CNN a couple of days ago that the image was removed. But it came through the source and “it was not like you understand what happened,” Jasjit Singh said. “It is not the sort of thing that we can say CNN apologized.”

SALDEF is still seeking an apology from CNN, especially because this is the third time in two years it has inappropriately used images of Sikhs.

“They were similar mistakes,” he said. “This is the War on Terror and here is a Sikh… Media plays a vital role in educating the public and affects the perceptions the public holds.”

SALDEF also asked to conduct a training session for CNN staff. If CNN agrees, it will be the first time that SALDEF trains journalists.




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