Phrases like ‘lesbian lover’ have nothing to recommend them other than alliteration

A person’s sexuality should not be referred to unless it is relevant to the matter in hand

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The Independent Online

The conviction of Polly Chowdhury and Kiki Muddar for the grotesque killing of Chowdhury’s eight-year-old daughter, Ayesha Ali, has received widespread coverage.

It is a deeply upsetting case for a variety of reasons and much has been made of the way in which Muddar inveigled her way into the affections of Ayesha’s mother before gradually, it seems, turning her against her child. The bizarre fantasy world created by Muddar online and in text messages gave the tragedy a further macabre twist.

But what of the fact that Chowdhury and Muddar were said to be in an intimate relationship? One reader expressed concern that, in a report of the case, we referred to Muddar as Chowdhury’s “lesbian lover”. Had the relationship involved a heterosexual couple we would not, they suggested, have used the phrase “straight lover”. There is no denying that.

The Independent’s rule is that a person’s sexuality should not be referred to unless it is relevant to the matter in hand. In the case of Ayesha’s killing, the fact that her mother and Muddar had become romantically involved certainly seemed relevant, even if the precise sexual details of the relationship remain disputed. Muddar’s ability to manipulate Chowdhury by virtue of their intense connection was central to a situation in which the abuse of Ayesha became possible.

The relevance of the relationship was, therefore, in its charged character. That it was homosexual was simply self-evident. It would have been impossible to report accurately on the case without it being clear that Chowdhury and Muddar were lovers.

In this scenario, it may be possible to conclude that the inclusion of the term “lesbian lover”, in the main body of the report, was nothing more than a summary of one of the key aspects of the case.

Nevertheless, to go back to the reader’s complaint, it is hard to ignore the point that there is a double standard here. Perhaps the alliterative attraction of the phrase is to blame. In any event, it served no proper purpose in our piece and we should have amended the copy.

For even though the description did not breach our editorial code, there is little reason to think that such old-hat phraseology belongs anywhere other than in the past.

In defence of publishing opinion

The Journalists’ Charity and the London Press Club last week co-hosted a debate to consider the extent to which newspapers can influence general elections. If it was “The Sun wot won it” in 1992, could the trick be repeated in 2015?

There is, in fact, little to suggest that the press has such power. Even when a newspaper explicitly urges a vote for a particular party, there is no empirical evidence that it can alter the result of an election. A paper by the Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends after the Labour landslide of 1997 concluded that, although there was a degree of influence, “relative to the … strident manner in which the British press often conducts itself, its partisan impact is a small one”. And, most significantly, it concluded that the press simply did not determine aggregate outcomes.

Given all this, it is perhaps surprising that readers quite often express concerns that, by publishing a partisan comment article by a writer with an obvious bent, The Independent may be giving undue favours to any given party. This despite the paper giving a platform to a wide range of views.

One imagines, at least, that our columnists Nigel Farage and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown are unlikely to be swayed in their voting intentions however much they read one another.

Will Gore is Deputy Managing Editor of The Independent, i, Independent on Sunday and the Evening Standard