Outrage as picture showing body of murdered hostage Shani Louk wins competition

The shocking photo was among a collection of Israel-Hamas war photos awarded Team Picture Story of the Year in the world’s oldest photojurnalism award


Ali Mahmud's prize-winning picture of Hamas terrorists driving back to Gaza with the body of Shani Leuk. The JC has blurred her image, the prize committee and AP did not. (Photo/Ali Mahmud/AP/Alamy)

A photograph from October 7 depicting Hamas terrorists with the half-naked corpse of German-Israeli Shani Louk has been awarded Team Picture Story of the Year, along with a collection of other graphic photos from the Israel-Hamas war, by the world’s oldest photojournalism award competition, sparking outrage online.

The Pictures of the Year award, run by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism includes a Team Picture Story of the Year category which recognises “the collaborative effort of a photography staff covering a single topic or news story.” First place was awarded to a selection of 20 photos from the Israel-Hamas war taken by Associated Press (AP) photographers.

The first photo in the selection was taken by  Ali Mahmoud and depicts the horrific moment in which 22-year-old Louk’s body was transported in the back of a truck by Hamas terrorists. It is captioned: “Palestinian militants drive back to the Gaza Strip with the body of Shani Louk, a German-Israeli dual citizen, during their cross-border attack on Israel, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.”

The collection, which includes AP photos depicting both Israelis and Palestinians in the days following October 7, was posted to Instagram last week by POY and swiftly criticised by those who claimed the photographer and the agency showed disrespect to Louk and her family by snapping the distressing photo and now, winning an award for it.

One user commented: “I am horrified. This is a picture of terrorists parading a dead body of a Jewish woman after they murdered her. Shame on you.”

Another user wrote: “So the ‘reporter’ who stood there while Shani got raped and murdered and took a photo of it is getting rewarded?”

HonestReporting, a media watchdog organisation devoted to exposing anti-Israel media bias, posed "serious ethical questions” in November 2023 about why a number of AP and Reuters Gaza-based photojournalists were so quick to arrive at the scenes of the October 7 massacre. 

HonestReporting acknowledged the photo’s appearance in the winning Team Picture Story of the Year category, writing on X: “Congratulations to AP for winning a Pictures of the Year award. How does it feel to do so on the back of Palestinian photojournalists who infiltrated Israel on Oct. 7 and took photos like the one below of Shani Louk's dead body in a Hamas pickup? Was RJI bothered about that before bestowing the award?”

In February, the families of Louk and other Nova massacre victims sued AP and Reuters for what they alleged to be the involvement of photojournalists employed by those agencies in the atrocities of October 7.

AP wrote a statement responding to the accusations on 22 February, writing that the agency has “the deepest sympathy for those affected by the horrific October 7 attacks in Israel,” but that the lawsuit filed against AP for its reporting is “baseless.”

“AP had no advance knowledge of the October 7 attacks, nor have we seen any evidence — including in the lawsuit — that the freelance journalists who contributed to our coverage did. Allegations like this are reckless and create even more potential danger for journalists in the region.

“Documenting breaking news events around the world — no matter how horrific — is our job. Without AP and other news organisations, the world would not have known what was happening on October 7.”

 The organisers of the competition said: “The Reynolds Journalism Institute and Pictures of the Year strongly condemn the Hamas attack on October 7, and we continue to mourn the loss of innocent lives and human suffering that is occurring in the ongoing conflict. Reactions to the Team Picture Story of the Year express the greater emotions related to that conflict.

“This year and every year, the photos in the competition are selected by a panel of professional journalists tasked with identifying compelling representations of the significant news events of the year. While we understand the reactions to the pictures, we also believe that photojournalism plays an important role in bringing attention to the harsh realities of war.”

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