SBS radio services changing to reflect Australia’s changing needs

Seven new languages, including Rohingya, Tibetan and Telugu, will receive their own SBS language programs while others are being discontinued after a review of the services.

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The changes are aimed at reflecting the evolving needs of communities in Australia today.

SBS has announced changes to its radio services intended to better meet the needs of multicultural Australia and reflect the country’s increasingly diverse society.

The latest census data reveals almost 5 million people, 4.87 million, speak a language other than English at home.

The SBS Radio Services Review has taken into consideration the latest census results and audience listening habits.

The population of a language group, English-language proficiency, recentness of arrival, age and household resources were all factors involved.

Any discrimination or vilification of a particular group in Australia was also considered.

The revised services will include seven new languages, Telugu, Karen, Tibetan, Hakha Chin, Rohingya, Mongolian and Kirundi, or Rundi.

All content in the new languages will be available digitally via on-demand audio podcasts, accessible through the SBS website and SBS Radio app.

The director of Audio and Language Content at SBS, Mandi Wicks, says it is important that SBS Radio reflects today’s Australia.

“As part of the review, we’re really excited we’ll be adding seven new languages to our radio services. One of those languages is a language called Telugu, which is an Indian language, and, actually, there are 74 million people who speak Telugu in India, and so we’re excited to be adding it to our radio services. It’s a very young community — more than 74 per cent of them are aged between 20 and 54. So we’re looking forward to servicing them and helping them to navigate life in a new country.”

SBS received more than 600 submissions, representing 85 languages, during the public-consultation process from November to December last year.

The consultation process gave individuals and organisations an opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed selection criteria.

The submissions were then considered in finalising the criteria.

The criteria included whether a language group was considered a large language, with a population at least approximating 25,000.

High Needs Languages criteria looked at communities of at least 1,000 and considered English-language proficiency, recentness of arrival, ageing and household resources.

SBS also considered other sizeable communities if their needs were significant but not adequately captured by the other criteria.

Factors taken into account included discrimination or vilification in Australia based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin.

Immediate need was also considered, focusing on whether there had been a significant increase in the population of a language group through Australia’s humanitarian program.

Based on the final selection criteria, 12 languages will be discontinued.

They include Kannada, Tongan, Norwegian, Cook Island Maori, Fijian, Swedish and the African program, an English-language program.

SBS will instead be servicing seven new languages, including Rohingya and Kirundi.

Lithuanian, Malay, Latvian, Danish and Maori have been in recess for the last 12 to 18 months and will also be discontinued.

The English SBS World News Radio service will now focus entirely on digital output and podcasts, with the weeknight radio broadcast no longer airing.

Mandi Wicks says it is a constant challenge to ensure SBS is providing the most relevant and wide-reaching content.

“So one of the challenges, I guess, about Australia changing so rapidly over the last five years is that some communities are no longer as large as they were in relation to other communities. They’ve almost been leapfrogged, I guess, in terms of size. When we looked at the criteria for this review, there were some languages, unfortunately, that didn’t meet that criteria in 2017, so, unfortunately, some of those languages will be discontinued by the end of the year.”

Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia chairman Joe Caputo says it is important that SBS constantly adapts to better serve the community.

“Look, I think that it is fundamental for the SBS to ensure that it continues to remain relevant to multicultural Australia as it changes, in terms of new arrivals, in terms of the current diverse communities that live and have been living in Australia for a long time. So I think that the regular reviews are an important element in SBS working so that it continues to ensure that it meets the needs of our diverse and changing multicultural society as it continually changes.”

Changes have also been made to the broadcast hours allotted to certain language groups.

The Turkish and Croatian languages will reduce from five to four hours of programming per week, while German will reduce from seven to five hours a week.

Hungarian, Bosnian and Albanian will also reduce to one program per week.

There have been changes to the broadcast times of some groups, affecting the Dari, Dinka, Khmer, Maltese, Nepali, Pashto and Tigrinya programs.

Mandi Wicks says SBS has committed to regularly reviewing and updating its services every five years in conjunction with new census data.

“The reason we exist is really about talking to communities and migrants about life in Australia, about the community in which they now live. And so this is constantly changing. And there are new communities arriving all the time who really need our services to understand our systems, understand Australian values and to navigate life in a new country.”

SBS Radio will remain the world’s most linguistically diverse public broadcaster, producing content in 68 languages.

The changes come into effect on November the 20th.