Beyond Broadcast: the “Oprah Effect”

Date: August 5, 2011
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If you sat in my living room during the last three episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show, you would think I was a lifelong, die-hard fan. I was transfixed by the last moments of Oprah on television. My head nodded in fervent agreement. I laughed. I must admit I cried. I had a notebook in my lap and a pen in my hand as I took notes of Oprah’s final words of wisdom to the world.

The truth is, I only started watching the Oprah Winfrey Show earlier this year. In a few short months, I have come to respect this programme and the phenomenal woman behind it. Oprah’s life reminds us that ordinary people can do extraordinary things to make a tangible difference in the world, if we try. In the words of Oprah, “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you are willing to work.”

Oprah Winfrey’s willingness to work has certainly paid off! The trajectory of her career is nothing short of a miracle. She started her life on the margins of society and made it to the league of Mother Theresa and Maya Angelou. I will not list her accolades because a Google search of her name will bring you close to 50 million results that you can read at your pleasure. Instead, I would like to look at Oprah beyond the idea of her as the ultimate multimedia and broadcast icon.

We know that Oprah has been hugely successful in the broadcast field – The Oprah Winfrey aired in 145 countries, with an estimated 30 million viewers a week. She has received more than 20 million letters and hosted 1.3 million people in her audience over 25 seasons. We also know Oprah was the first black woman to appear on the Forbes’ billionaire list. She has excelled in her career as a woman in broadcast but the value that I see in her career is what is known as the “Oprah Effect”.

Simply put, the Oprah Effect goes like this – if Oprah likes something and mentions it, it makes millions. This ranges from her favourite books and music to people such as President Barack Obama. Winfrey’s audience and viewership take her advice seriously and tend to put their money (or their vote) behind her words. When the Oprah Effect is applied to humanitarian efforts, its potential is staggering.

Oprah Winfrey has reached beyond broadcasting in this sense by starting The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, which supports the education and empowerment of women, children and families. She believes that education is a key to freedom so the Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program gives scholarships to students who are determined to use their education to give back to their communities. The Oprah Angels Network is a public charity which has risen millions of dollars from audience donations. This money is allotted for non-profit organisations across the world.

The most encouraging aspect of Oprah’s outreach beyond broadcast is her commitment to protect children from child abusers. Oprah was sexually abused by relatives during her childhood years and she transformed this tragedy to a campaign to establish a national database of convicted child abusers. She testified before a US Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of a National Child Protection Act. This resulted in President Clinton signing the “Oprah Bill”, which was passed into law in 1993. This established the national database she sought and it is now available to law enforcement agencies and concerned parties across the United States. This in itself is a good reason, beyond the realm of broadcast, why Oprah was named one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century by Time magazine. In this way and many others, Oprah has reached beyond broadcast and can be seen as a trendy gender activist, promoting equality and justice in her own infectious way.


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