LONDON — It was intended as a lighthearted 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.
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 criticised 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.
"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, and this isn't the first time it has featured a non-human," a spokeswoman said.
"In 2009, Benson the Carp, a much-caught giant fish, 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."