Since launching its radio service in 1975 the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) has prided itself in catering for Australia’s diverse multicultural and multilingual population.

Now 40 years on, SBS has launched a 12 month trial of SBS Arabic 24, a 24/7 digital radio station and online digital hub delivering the latest in Australian and international news to the country’s 290,000 strong Arabic speaking population.

Yet this isn’t the broadcaster’s first Arabic service. The language was one of the first to go on air at SBS in 1975, with broadcasts starting at 6am each day.

With a focus on the 22 Arabic speaking countries, the service faced challenges covering violence in the Middle East, but particularly in their coverage of terrorism and homegrown terrorism, according to longstanding executive-producer Marie Myssy:

The Arabic community would feel that it’s affected by this and they feel that they always have to justify that they are not like that. So it’s a challenge for us covering the anti-terrorism laws and they think that the Arabic community is targeted by those laws. So for us it’s a challenge.”

The launch of SBS Arabic 24. Image: SBS
The launch of SBS Arabic 24. Image: SBS

The re-brand and move to a 24-hour service is, in part, inspired by these challenges; especially as Australia’s Arab speaking population become more culturally diverse with a growth in refugees from Syria and Iraq. 12,000 more asylum seekers from these countries are due to settle in Australia over the coming years.

A key aim for SBS Arabic 24 is to therefore “increase social cohesion” by upping its provision of Australian stories in Arabic whilst keeping newly arrived refugees from conflict zones up-to-date with relevant news.

But more interestingly, the station hopes to broadcast more cheerful entertainment content and positive news stories. Upon its launch Heba Kassoua, the new host of the station’s Drive programme explained;

“People who have come from Syria and Iraq, especially, are sick of the news, in a way… Dry, sad news that they hear every day. So the Drive show will be a little bit of music, you know, happy days.”

SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid said in a press release:

SBS Arabic24 delivers on our commitment to provide balanced and impartial news and information to Australia’s Arabic speaking community, in order to help involve and engage them in society and as such deliver on SBS’s purpose to promote social cohesion within Australia.

Arabic speakers are among one of Australia’s fastest growing language groups, with a real need for a service where people can come to discuss and debate the news and issues of the day, hear global perspectives on local issues and to celebrate their culture and share their stories.”

According to Media Newsline the station will also feature locally produced programming, music from SBS PopAraby service and content from BBC World’s BBC Arabic Service.

SBS Arabic 24 launched on 7 March 2016 and you can listen live here

By Kristian Porter