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SBS Radio and Language Services

In 2018-19, SBS Radio continued to build on its position as the world’s most linguistically diverse public broadcaster, delivering cross-platform services in 68 languages and serving the nearly five million Australians who speak a language other than English at home with news and current affairs, sport, music and settlement information.

A photo of a stall holder at the Africultures Festival, with bright clothing hanging on display racks beside her.
SBS Swahili attended the Africultures Festival in Lidcombe, March 2019

New language services

SBS’s Audio and Language Content division (ALC) continues to evolve both its language services and platforms of delivery.

Following the SBS Radio Services Review, SBS introduced six new language services in 2018. Broadcasters in Kirundi, Mongolian, Tibetan, Hakha Chin, Karen and Rohingya were recruited, with services for each language launched progressively between May and August 2018. These services aim to reflect the changing face of Australia, with 1.3 million new migrants having arrived between 2011 and 2016.

Digital investment has assisted ALC in the efficient delivery of services which are available on demand and via a range of platforms. The new SBS language services are all available as podcasts accessible via the SBS website and SBS Radio app.

Content for these new ‘high-needs’ audiences has been based on the SBS Settlement Guide and leverages broadcasters’ strong connections to community. News and information is complemented by dedicated first-person stories on community-specific issues including health, job-seeking and regional settlement opportunities.

While still relatively new, there has been significant audience growth for these services. SBS Mongolian currently averages 4,280 audio plays/downloads per month - with the SBS Mongolian website reaching 55 per cent of its potential audience (total Mongolian speakers 2,144).

SBS National Languages Competition

In its third year, the 2018 SBS National Languages Competition expanded to engage Australians of all ages who are learning a language, including English and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

Participants were required to answer the question, “what amazing possibilities does learning a language open for you?” by submitting a photo or illustration accompanied by a caption in the language of their choice and an English translation. Throughout the entry period, photo submissions were built into a real time mosaic map of Australia and entries were shared across social media platforms.

The competition received thousands of entries from all states and territories, representing a record 82 languages, including Mandarin, French, Japanese, Arabic, German, Greek and Spanish.

Digital acceleration

In 2018-19, ALC increased its focus on digital content and distribution, generating record growth as more than 33 million unique visitors engaged with SBS Radio’s suite of audio and language websites in the past 12 months, delivering an 18 per cent increase year on year with an average of 3.3 million monthly unique visitors.

ALC continued to invest in language proficient digital producers following the SBS Radio Services Review outcomes, as well as the development of digital competencies for content producers working across language services.

SBS music channels

SBS music channels SBS Chill, SBS PopAsia and SBS PopDesi, available on DAB+ digital radio, digital TV and online, generated more than 5.5 million online streams in 2018-19.

These channels averaged 500,000 live streams per month across the SBS website, SBS Radio app and third party platforms such as TuneIn Radio, iHeart Radio and smart speakers.

Following the strategic decision to focus on digital audiences, SBS PopAsia reduced its linear output for radio and free-to-air television. With audiences increasingly migrating to digital platforms, SBS PopAsia has primarily focused on website editorial, social media video engagement and SBS PopAsia radio. In 2018-19, the SBS PopAsia website held digital audiences, averaging more than 957,000 unique visitors each month.

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

SBS Radio delivered the most multilingual coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup RussiaTM in the world, with live commentary and analysis in 12 languages. ALC also celebrated the world game with communities, hosting 19 activation events for football fans in Sydney and Melbourne throughout the tournament.

Match commentary in up to five languages was delivered simultaneously via the SBS World Game app, digital and analogue radio, digital TV, online and the SBS Radio app. The Final was broadcast in Croatian, English, French, Arabic and Mandarin.

In total, there were more than 7.4 million plays of all audio content of the tournament, including live streams and podcasts.

Building on this success, ALC also worked closely with teams across SBS to support the multilingual and multiplatform coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019TM in June.

2019 Federal Election coverage

SBS Radio’s coverage of the 2019 Federal Election focused on providing insights and balanced information to enable voters to understand the policies and provide essential information about the voting process in-language.

Daily news updates were complemented with information about the political parties as well as key policy issues including immigration, climate change, tax reform, health and education. Coverage was supported by original stories and conversations with communities, adding context, to bring to life the debate for multicultural and multilingual audiences.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), there were approximately 250,000 new citizen voters during the federal election. To cater to their needs, SBS Radio created dedicated content about how Australia’s democratic system works, such as ‘How to enrol for the federal election’ and ‘Why does Australia have compulsory voting?’.

The SBS Election Exchange in Parramatta brought SBS’s radio studios into the community and invited community leaders, local representatives and federal election candidates to join the conversation with SBS’s Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin, Cantonese, Nepali, Korean, Urdu, Tamil, Vietnamese and Filipino audiences.

SBS Arabic24 was given exclusive access to the National Imams Council’s election symposium dinner. Keynote speakers included Senator Richard Di Natale (Greens), Hon Tony Burke MP (Labor), Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (Liberal), Jason Clare MP (Labor) and Senator Mehreen Faruqi (Greens). Audio and video coverage focused on each party’s plan to counter Islamophobia and secure religious freedoms.

Investigative reporting

In 2018-19, SBS Radio’s audio, video and online content engaged Australians in conversations about important issues, with a number of investigative stories garnering wider audience and stakeholder recognition. Leveraging strong community relationships, SBS Radio broadcasters broke exclusive stories in Australia and tackled topics that are often considered controversial or taboo.

SBS Punjabi investigated the impact of dowry abuse on Indian Australians. Through stories of female and male victims, about physical and financial abuse by their partners and their families, the SBS series was acknowledged in the Victorian Senate inquiry into introducing Australia’s first anti-dowry legislation, for having greatly contributed to the public’s understanding of the devastating effect of dowry abuse in Australia.

In October, SBS Pashto broke the story that six Afghan athletes competing at the Invictus Games had disappeared to avoid returning to Afghanistan after the competition. Following weeks of investigation and trust-building with the community, SBS Pashto secured an exclusive interview for SBS Radio and SBS World News with the athletes, who spoke candidly about their reasons for seeking asylum and why they felt Australia owed a duty of care to them, as one of the countries which had sent military forces to Afghanistan.

To support Season 2 of Filthy Rich & Homeless, SBS Radio teams explored why homelessness remains hidden in many migrant communities and the impact of housing affordability on these communities. Programs created unique audio and online content to ignite these conversations and help audiences gain a better understanding of the issues.

Alongside specially commissioned Settlement Guide features, teams also spoke to audiences to find out how communities are helping people who are experiencing homelessness. SBS Hindi interviewed a Brisbane-based Indian Australian restauranteur who cooks meals for homeless people; SBS Cantonese interviewed a Melbourne charity that provides blankets for those who are sleeping rough; SBS Korean created social media video content about Korean migrant volunteers who feed about 25,000 homeless people every year; SBS Arabic24 engaged the Arabic-speaking community in a conversation about why homelessness persists in the “lucky country”; and SBS Dutch introduced audiences to a Dutch woman, Anja, who was sleeping rough in Melbourne.

SBS Radio in the community

SBS Radio language programs attended a total of 73 community events across five states and territories in 2018-19.

These community events celebrate key moments and culturally significant dates, including New Year or religious holidays, bringing together large numbers from a range of communities, connecting SBS Radio with new and existing audiences.

Community events form a key component of SBS Radio’s Audience and Content Engagement Strategy, which focuses on creating a multiplatform relationship with audiences from diverse communities on radio, online, on social media and in the community.


2018 Premier’s Multicultural Communication Awards

  • Best News Report - The Nauru refugee who went back to where he came from, SBS Arabic24
  • Public Interest Award - Police charge education recruiting agency’s director for alleged misuse of overseas students’ funds, SBS Spanish

PromaxBDA Awards

  • Best Integrated Marketing Campaign - Welcome Home SBS Radio

2018 New York Festivals International Radio Awards

  • Finalist, Best Special Report - Happy Endings, SBS Thai

Queensland Multicultural Awards

  • Business award – 360 video of the Tibetan festival, SBS Mandarin

Mental Health Matters Award

  • Media Award – Various stories, SBS Punjabi

Community awards

  • United Gujaratis of Australia, Gujarati Gaurav award - SBS Gujarati
  • Hindu Council of Australia’s Gardi Award – SBS Hindu
  • Indian Support Centre High Achiever Award - Harita Mehta from SBS Gujarati
  • The Rooh Punjab Di (Spirit of Punjab) Academy Award - Manpreet Singh from SBS Punjabi
  • Young Innovators Network Australia Award – Rehan Alavi from SBS Urdu

SBS Radio spotlight

SBS Radio won Gold and Bronze Awards for Best Investigative Report at the 2019 New York Radio Festival Awards.

SBS Spanish took out the prestigious award for journalist Florencia Melgar’s piece, titled The Interview Which Uncovered an Alleged Torturer, investigating the story of Chilean fugitive, Adriana Rivas. The interview with SBS Spanish led to her arrest on alleged kidnapping offences committed during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s.