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Hamas brutality wins photo of the year and ignites fury; Ethics on photojournalism

Kaicie Boeglin

News Editor

Please be advised that this article may contain hyperlinks to photos and footage deemed sensitive.

The Associated Press (AP) has won the world's oldest photojournalism award and created a new controversy in regards to Hamas’ terrorism and how far the canon of photojournalism extends. A photo of Hamas terrorists in a truck parading the naked dead corpse of 23-year-old Shani Louk has ignited fury on social media.

Louk was a German-Israeli tattoo artist in attendance during the Re'im Supernova music festival massacre. She was one of the many hostages taken from the festival and one of the many women who suffered abuse, torture and decapitation at the hands of Hamas terrorists. After her body was brutalized, her partially clothed body paraded through the streets of Gaza. The Associated Press supplied 20 photos to the Picture of the Year International Awards. The photo of Louk's body, taken by freelance photographer Ali Mahmud and submitted to AP, secured the Associated Press first place for Team Picture Story of the Year.

Graphic made by Kaicie Boeglin

Controversy began as AP News boasted the win on social media without giving any mention to Louk's horror or name. Many Israeli individuals made their outage known, "There is a dead body of a partially unclothed human being, a young woman who was brutally murdered and probably raped. This cannot be real. Please remove this photo," one user wrote on Instagram, while another said "She has a name. Shani Louk. Her family specifically requested that we remember her laughing and living. Take this down and show some respect. If you want to post our Shani, find a photo she consented to." More user reactions have been archived by Reddit.

The Picture of the Year International website did include Shani Louk's name in the caption. However, on its Instagram account they did not.

Scrutiny came as this is in direct contradiction to accepted journalistic practice, specifically, the AP's style guidelines for caption writing, which state: "The caption field is the text that accompanies the photo, containing the who, what, when, where and why information." The caption for the Instagram post omitted the "who" information on the name of the murder victim, which was widely criticized around the globe.

In February, the families of Louk and other festival massacre victims sued AP and Reuters for the news outlets's alleged involvement of photojournalists prior knowledge of the October 7 attack. The families claimed that the photo journalists employed by these agencies knew exactly when these horrific events were to take place in order to get the “shot of the year.”

On Feb 22, AP wrote a statement responding to the accusations, saying that the agency has “the deepest sympathy for those affected by the horrific October 7 attacks in Israel,” but that the lawsuit filed against the Associated Press for their 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 organizations, the world would not have known what was happening on October 7.”

Photojournalists need to be fearless when getting shots and understand that their photos will be perceived differently by various audiences. They have a duty to collect names and information for every photo caption. The ethics of photojournalism in capturing corpses are rested in the need for honest visual information compared with respecting a person's privacy. If individuals focus more on the photographer than the story being captured, then the moment captured loses all significance.


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