‘Pandagate’: BBC Under Fire for ‘Face of the Year’ Pick

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Tian Tian may be cute, but is she influential?

When in doubt over a year-end list, go with an animal. But be prepared to protect yourself from Twitter’s wrath.

The BBC has come under scrutiny for selecting the Chinese panda Tian Tian (aka Sweetie) as one of its women of 2011. The animal is on loan from Beijing and the Edinburgh Zoo is hoping that she produces cubs during her decade on British soil (at a cost of around $1 million a year).

(LIST: TIME’s Top 10 Animal Stories of 2011)

While all the men chosen (such as Colin Firth and Herman Cain) were actual people, Twitter users didn’t just express their anger at the disparity when it came to the female choices but also because they were unhappy at the reasons why some of them were picked. Their argument goes that one in four of the women were included because they were involved in marriages: to wit, Pippa Middleton (you may have heard of her sister), Sarah Burton (the woman who designed Kate Middleton’s dress), Charlene Wittstock, who married Prince Albert of Monaco, and the Spanish billionaire, the Duchess of Alba.

When the Guardian contacted the freelance writer journalist Bob Chaundy — the BBC article states that he compiled the list — he did agree that Tian Tian was an odd choice but denied it was his decision (he said the selection was put together by BBC editors and he simply wrote up the picks.) And here’s where it gets personal: Chaundy maintains that these lists shouldn’t be taken as seriously as TIME’s very own person of the year. “When you do faces of the year it’s not like TIME faces of the year. They’ve picked slightly offbeat people. It’s not David Attenborough or Barack Obama,” he said.

The Beeb is having a tough time of late, with Pandagate coming hot on the heels of the corporation’s neglecting to nominate a woman for the Sports Personality of the Year award (the BBC outsources the decision making to external publications).

But fighting back, the BBC responded that it isn’t the first time that animals have been selected. “Including Sweetie as one for the annual headline-makers was a lighthearted addition to the list, and this isn’t the first time it has featured a non-human. In 2009, Benson the Carp, a much-caught giant fish, was August’s entry on the male list and last year Peppa the Pig was on the female list for April [2010],” the BBC noted.

Frankly, we’re a little disappointed. Everyone knows the name is Peppa Pig, not Peppa the Pig. Expect a fully-fledged NewsFeed campaign any moment now.

PHOTOS: Bye-Bye, Panda Tai Shan