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The man Oprah Winfrey missed till date

By Anita Mathur
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To most people in the world, Oprah Winfrey is an icop of admiration. She has reached into the position of very high esteem due to her continuous philanthrophic works, especially in the poverty hit African continent. This year, when most of the people were not sure even to predict the name of the possible recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (before the prize was announced to be given to American President Barack Obama), like millions, I was also thinking Oprah as the most potential cadidate for the prize.

Oprah Gail Winfrey (born January 29, 1954) is an American media personality, actress, television producer, literary critic and magazine publisher, best known for her self-titled, multi-award winning talk show, which has become the highest-rated program of its kind in history. She has been ranked the richest African American of the 20th century, the most philanthropic African American of all time, and was once the world's only black billionaire. She is also, according to some assessments, the most influential woman in the world.

Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and later raised in an inner-city Milwaukee neighborhood. She experienced considerable hardship during her childhood, including being raped at the age of nine and becoming pregnant at 14; her son died in infancy. Sent to live with the man she calls her father, a barber in Tennessee, Winfrey landed a job in radio while still in high school and began co-anchoring the local evening news at the age of 19. Her emotional ad-lib delivery eventually got her transferred to the daytime talk show arena, and after boosting a third-rated local Chicago talk show to first place, she launched her own production company and became internationally syndicated.

Credited with creating a more intimate confessional form of media communication, she is thought to have popularized and revolutionized the tabloid talk show genre pioneered by Phil Donahue, which a Yale study claimed broke 20th century taboos and allowed LGBT people to enter the mainstream. By the mid 1990s she had reinvented her show with a focus on literature, self-improvement, and spirituality. Though criticized for unleashing confession culture and promoting controversial self-help fads, she is generally admired for overcoming adversity to become a benefactor to others. In 2006 she became an early supporter of Barack Obama and one analysis estimates she delivered over a million votes in the close 2008 Democratic primary race, an achievement for which the governor of Illinois considered offering her a seat in the U.S. senate.

Though there are conflicting reports as to how her name became "Oprah", Winfrey was originally named Orpah after the Biblical character in the Book of Ruth.

According to an interview with the Academy of Achievement, Winfrey claimed that her family and friends' inability to pronounce “Orpah” caused them to put the “P” before the “R” in every place else other than the birth certificate. However, there is the account that the midwife transposed letters while filling out the newborn's birth certificate.

Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi to unmarried parents. She later explained that her conception was due to a single sexual encounter that her two teenage parents had; they quickly broke up not long after. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was a housemaid, and her father, Vernon Winfrey, was a coal miner and later worked as a barber before becoming a city councilman. Winfrey's father was in the Armed Forces when she was born.

After her birth, Winfrey's mother traveled north and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local children made fun of her. Her grandmother taught her to read before the age of three and took her to the local church, where she was nicknamed "The Preacher" for her ability to recite Bible verses. When Winfrey was a child, her grandmother would take a switch and would hit her with it when she didn't do chores or if she misbehaved in any way.

At age six, Winfrey moved to an inner-city neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her mother, who was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother had been, due in large part to the long hours Vernita Lee worked as a maid. Winfrey has stated that she was molested by her cousin, her uncle, and a family friend, starting when she was nine years old, something she first revealed to her viewers on a 1986 episode of her TV show, when sexual abuse was being discussed.

Despite her dysfunctional home life, Winfrey skipped two of her earliest grades, became the teacher's pet, and by the time she was 13 received a scholarship to attend Nicolet High School in the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale, Wisconsin. After suffering years of abuse, at 13 Winfrey ran away from home. When she was 14, she became pregnant, but her son died shortly after birth. Also at that age, her frustrated mother sent her to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Vernon was strict, but encouraging and made her education a priority. Winfrey became an honors student, was voted Most Popular Girl, joined her high school speech team at East Nashville High School, and placed second in the nation in dramatic interpretation. She won an oratory contest, which secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically black institution, where she studied communication. At age 17, Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. She also attracted the attention of the local black radio station, WVOL, which hired her to do the news part-time. She worked there during her senior year of high school, and again while in her first two years of college.

Winfrey's career choice in media did not surprise her grandmother, who once said that ever since Winfrey could talk, she was on stage. As a child she played games interviewing her corncob doll and the crows on the fence of her family's property. Winfrey later acknowledged her grandmother's influence, saying it was Hattie Mae who had encouraged her to speak in public and "gave me a positive sense of myself."

Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV. She moved to Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news. She was then recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host of WJZ's local talk show People Are Talking, which premiered on August 14, 1978. She also hosted the local version of Dialing for Dollars there as well.

I know, it is not at all required to narrate, who Oprah Winfrey is, because, she is well known in the world to her millions of fans and admirers, which include polticiains to entrepreneurs to media giants to celebrities.

But, there is one very particular reason for me to bring this background of this highly esteemed individual. And the reason is, she (Oprah) surely understands the degree of sufferings and pains, any individual would have, when he or she is continued to be persecuted, ignored and tortured by their societies.

Here now, I would like to bring the case of another individual, who is yet to be become a household name in the world. This man, just because of his ideological stand against social injustice, religious extremism, Jihad and religious hatred, is continuing to face sedition, treason and blasphemy charges in his own country (Bangladesh) since 2003. And, till date, he has skipped the precious attention of Oprah Winfrey. Who knows, if Oprah would only know about him and show any interest, when he is already murdered by Islamist militants in his own country or awarded death penalty by the court, where trial into the sedition case brought against him is continuing.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an award winning anti Jihadist Muslim journalist in Bangladesh. He is the editor of Weekly Blitz. This newspaper has both print and online edition reaching mostly policymakers, politicians, entrepreneurs, students, think tanks, civil and millitary officials, clergies and cross section of people in the world. Weekly Blitz is the largest and most infleutial English language newspaper published in Bangladesh. Online edition of the only anti Jihadist newspaper in the Muslim world is available online on www.weeklyblitz.net

Journalist, writer, poet, lyrist, author, political analyst and peace activist, Choudhury, started his career in journalism in 1989 as the Correspondent of TASS, state news agency of Soviet Union. Later he was promoted as the Chief Correspodent of Itar-Tass in Bangladesh.

On November 29, 2003, he was arrested at Zia International Airport in Bangladesh on his way to Israel to attend a peace conference. Choudhury was tortured, imprisoned and denied medical treatment in prison. Government brought sedition, treason and blasphemy charges against him for confronting religious extremism, advocating inter-faith dialogue and demanding relations between Dhaka and Jerusalem. He was released on April 30, 2005 after imprisonment of seventeen months. Although released on bail, Choudhury continues to face sedition, treason and blasphemy charges and the trial continues in a court in Dhaka. Sedition bears capital punishment [death penalty] according to law in Bangladesh.

Choudhury is the recipient of PEN USA Freedom to Write Award in 2005; American Jewish Committee's Moral Courage Award in 2006; Monaco Media Award in 2007 and Key to Englewood City [USA] in 2007.

He has written a number of books on various issues. His latest book titled 'Injustice and Jihad' was published in October 2007. Italian publication house Neftasia Editore has published Choudhury's book titled 'Non Sono Colpevole' in May 2008.

Choudhury's latest book titled 'Inside Madrassa', which contains descriptive and elaborate information on condition of Madrassas in Bangladesh, Pakistan and other Muslim nations has been published in October 2009. This book is a result of comprehensive research by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury for several years.

In today's world, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is perhaps the most quoted Bangladeshi journalist in the international media. Newspapers like New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, New York Sun, The Australian, Berliner Zeitung, Kuwait Times etc has published editorials on him on several occasions. Amongst the global electronic media, only Voice of American (Program name – On the Line, anchored by Eric Felton) aired couple of discussions on him. Other major outlets such as BBC, CNN, Fox, CBS, ABC etc are again, completely ignorant on covering the issue of this extra-ordinary courageous journalist of today's world.

Office of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury's newspaper, Weekly Blitz was bombed by Islamist millitants in Dhaka (Bangladesh) in July 2006.

On October 5, 2006, armed terrorists attacked the his office and physically assaulted him.

On 18th March 2008, members of Rapid Action Battalion (infamous of extra-judicial murders) abducted Mr. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury at gun point from his office. He was blind-folded and physically assaulted. Because of quick actions by US Peace Activist Dr. Richard L Benkin and Rep. Mark Steven Kirkand other esteemed members of United States Congress, Choudhury escaped RAB's deathtrap.

On February 22, 2009, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury's newspaper office was once again attacked by the armed thugs belonging to ruling party. He and his staffs were physically assaulted and the attackers looted his laptop along with two manuscripts of his un-published books.

US Congress, European Parliament, Australian Senate passed resolutions demanding dropping of the false case of Mr. Choudhury and to give him proper security and stop all forms of harrassments. But, Bangladeshi authorities in Dhaka, instead of showing minimum respect to such calls, withdrew police protection from the residence of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury in May 2008.

Shoaib Choudhury is a permanent member of PENUSA; Advisory Board Member of Islam-Israel Fellowship; Director, Forcefield NFP.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is invited by many prestigious institutions in the world for giving lecture on the topic of his work. Yale University (New Haven, USA) and Rutgers University (New Jersey, USA) invited Choudhury to give lecture during October and November 2009.

Being a fan and admirer of Oprah Winfrey, can I expect this time that her people will call Mr. Choudhury while he is in United States and bring his case to the attention of millions of Oprah viewers around the world? Can I expect reporters and crews of CNN, Fox, CBS and other American media outlets to interview him as well stand in support of their fellow journalist during the most difficult time? Is it something too much I am asking for?

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Anita is a freelance writer, who occasionally writes on various topics, mostly on blogs.

Development / Ghana / Africa /Modernghana.com