How much can a panda bear? BBC in Twitstorm

Tian Tian, a female giant panda, walks in her new enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo during a press view in Edinburgh (David Moir / Reuters)
They say there is a thin line between love and hate. It turns out that this rule is true for the fluffiest and most adorable animals there are. Who would have thought a wave of online hate campaign could be directed at a panda?

­The same panda whose arrival was so over-publicized in the British media for almost a year.

From the beginning of the UK-China negotiations on a panda loan for the Edinburgh Zoo to its actual arrival, on a plane piloted by kilt-wearing pilots. All in the honor of the two pandas – Sweetie (or Tian Tian) and her male friend Sunshine (Yang Guang).

All in all, Edinburgh and the whole British media awaited the arrival of the pandas as they would the coming of the messiah. When they arrived, the zoo boasted on its webpage of becoming the “eighth zoo in the Western hemisphere to care for this enigmatic and endangered species.”

Enigmatic indeed. Turns out there are a limit to human love for animals, when animals are put in the same frame as humans.

Following the “pandamonium” trend, as it was called by the zoo itself, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) compiled a “Faces of the Year” list and boldly included Sweetie as December entry in the women’s category. And that was where public capacity for love came to an end.

The list published on Wednesday, December 28, caused outrage among the online community, with the #pandagate hashtag soaring up in the national trends in the UK Twitterverse. A panda in a zoo is cute, but not so cute when taking someone’s “rightful place” as a person of the year, especially a woman! And what a woman! With two black eyes – a real no-no.

Sweetie was placed in the list along with US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, the sister of Kate Middleton’s sister Pippa, wife of Prince Albert II of Monaco Charlene Wittstock, infamous maid of the New York Sofitel, Nafissatou Diallo, and others.

The BBC bravely stands by its choice in favor of the panda, saying it was a “light-hearted addition to the list” and stating that Sweetie is not the first non-human on Faces of the Year list, Peppa Pig last year and Benson the carp on the 2009 male list. But the public is in no mood for light-hearted this year.

Critics have accused the broadcasting corporation of disrespect for women, reminding that earlier in the shortlist of nominees for the UK’s "Sportsman of the Year" list, the BBC does not include any women at all.

“So the BBC couldn't find a woman for Sports Personality of the Year, but they could find a panda for a female face of 2011” tweeted UK’s former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

The media and online frenzy spun right along, with The Guardian printing four faces from the list on the front page, with a headline “Here are four of the BBC’s female ‘faces of the year’. Can you spot the odd one out?”

Bob Chaundy, a freelance journalist, who is credited with writing the descriptions for all the ‘women’ on the list, has distanced himself from the commotion, tweeting: “I didn't choose the BBC women faces of the year subjects, just wrote them. Two black eyes from wife though. Pandamonium!”

Looking on Twitter, one will see there a plenty of reasons to oppose the poor animal’s title, ranging from BBC’s inability to fill the list with actual humans, to leaving out Sweetie’s mate Sunshine (Yang Guang) from the ‘Men of the Year’ list. Here are just some:

“#BBC apparently stuck in 1952, can't find 10 humans to fill ‘Ten Women of the Year’ list tinyurl.com/c66cx4x #pandagate” – tweeted @xanna

“Here's why #pandagate matters: 3 out of 4 people in the news are men. Don't give the 1 female slot to a panda.” – another tweet from Catherine Mayer.

Twitter user Subedited said: “I'm more angry that two women have made it into the BBC list simply for getting married. And one for making a wedding dress.”

While Jamie Anderson posted: “I think #pandagate is missing the point. The issue is not the inclusion of the female panda, it is the exclusion of the male one. Sexist.”

Eight-year-old Sweetie, together with the male Sunshine, moved to Scotland on December 4 on a 10-year loan from China, at a cost of 600,000 pounds per year. Their arrival was the culmination of five years of lobbying by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the government. The two pandas are happily settled in Edinburgh Zoo, completely ignorant of the heated discussions going on around Sweetie’s unexpected title.