Public media in Australia have expanded their services to make COVID-19 updates available in more languages.

Today, authorities in New South Wales announced a four-week lockdown extension and further restrictions in the Greater Sydney region due to the number of COVID-19 cases. The state is Australia’s most populous and has a large number of people who speak languages other than English, posing a potential challenge to effective communication about the crisis.

But as demonstrated throughout the past year, this is where public media can play an important role  in ensuring the accessibility and availability of accurate, trusted, and useful information.

Last week ABC announced that it has stepped up efforts to provide more in-language information about COVID-19 restrictions across Greater Sydney. Information is now available via its COVID-19 UPDATES playlist on YouTube in eight languages, including Arabic, Assyrian, Cantonese, English, Farsi, Khmer, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

Credit: ABC

The ABC wrote: ‘We’re a part of Sydney, and we love all of our community. We want to help as many people as we can stay safe from COVID-19, and that means we want to help get information out about how to deal with it in as many languages as we can.’

Public broadcaster SBS has also launched a country-first, multi-lingual initiative. Partnering with the NSW government, SBS will provide live translations of the daily COVID-19 press conferences in Arabic and Vietnamese on SBS Radio and their respective language Facebook pages. Mandarin and Assyrian will soon be introduced.

According to SBS, 40-80% of the population in the five affected Local Government Areas (LGA) that are under COVID-19 restrictions, speak languages other than English. SBS is renowned for its specific mandate on integration and diversity. Last year, SBS Radio launched a multi-lingual COVID-19 portal in more than 60 languages.

There have recently been claims about the allocation of funding at ABC, with suggestions that it dedicated ‘too many resources, either in staffing or cost, to its legal responsibilities’. But as the ABC explains, its in-house legal team is ‘highly cost-efficient compared to other media organisations’, and its external legal fees ‘are consistently lower than those of commercial broadcasters’. Initiatives such as expanded language provisions, high-quality public interest journalism, emergency broadcasting and plans to improve local and regional coverage, demonstrate how public media use resources in the public interest – despite their own financial pressures – to provide value, quality and reliable news and information to the public that funds them.

ABC and SBS are members of the Public Media Alliance.


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