Sweet! Panda is a woman of the year

Updated: 2011-12-31 08:02

(China Daily)

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LONDON - It was intended as a light-hearted addition to an otherwise serious list of women who made the headlines in 2011. But the BBC's inclusion of a panda in its "faces of the year" has kicked up a storm.

In a media row dubbed Pandagate by users of Twitter, the broadcaster has included Tian Tian (Sweetie), one of two pandas who arrived at a Scottish zoo earlier this month, as its female face for December in an online feature.

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The hairy giant is named alongside women such as US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head during a meeting with voters, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Kate Middleton's sister Pippa.

Opposition Labour lawmaker Stella Creasy was among those who criticized the BBC's decision, saying that despite its light-hearted tone, the list caused concern because it appeared to be part of a trend.

Last month, the BBC came under fire for failing to include any women in the 10-strong shortlist for its prestigious Sports Personality of the Year award.

"These lists aren't meant to be serious but coming so soon after the lack of women from their Sports Personality of the Year award it does seem as if the BBC hasn't noticed the wide and varied contribution women make to public life," Creasy said in a statement.

Sweet! Panda is a woman of the year

Tian Tian the panda enjoys the unexpected honor of being named one of the "faces of the year" by the BBC. [Photo/Agencies]

"Whilst we all love a good panda story, in a year when Christine Lagarde became head of the IMF, or Helle Thorning-Schmidt became prime minister of Denmark or even the sad death of Amy Winehouse, it's frustrating the BBC couldn't think of 12 human female faces who have made the news this year."

The BBC said this was not the first time an animal had made the list. "Including Sweetie as one of the annual headline makers was a light-hearted addition to the list," a spokeswoman said.

In 2009, Benson the Carp was August's entry on the male list and last year Peppa the Pig, a popular cartoon character, was on the female list for April.

Hugh Roberts, chief executive of Edinburgh Zoo, told China Daily that Tian Tian and Yang Guang are doing well indeed.

"They eat well, sleep well, enjoy bamboo every day and enjoy seeing visitors," Roberts said.

About 2,000 visitors come to Edinburgh Zoo to watch the pair every day, but the daylight is quite short at the moment, Roberts added.

When it comes to the news that BBC selected Tian Tian as one of its women "faces of the year 2011", Roberts said it's very wonderful.

Sweet! Panda is a woman of the year

Eve Miller poses for photographers as she watches Tian Tian, a female giant panda, at Edinburgh Zoo in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, Dec 16, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]

The selection, on the BBC's online magazine, has provoked controversy. Unlike the women's page, all individuals of the men's page were people. Yang Guang, the male panda brought to Edinburgh with Tian Tian, was not included. Some people also said Tian Tian may be cute, but she is not so influential.

"Different people have different opinions," Roberts said, adding that some people take the selection very seriously and they think it's not good, while others don't like hard news stories.

Tang Chunxiang, vice-director of China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda and one of the Chinese experts staying at the zoo, said the BBC's selection of Tian Tian is good.

"British people love pandas," Tang said.

AFP - China Daily