SBS Radio 40 years - Arabic

SBS Radio 40 years - Arabic

One of SBS radio's first languages to go on air in 1975 was Arabic, and since then it's faced more than its fair share of challenges.  

When many Australians think of SBS they think of SBS television.


But the broadcaster's roots go further back to 1975 when SBS Radio first started.


One of the first languages to go on air in that year was Arabic.


Since then the community has grown and changed with various waves of migration altering its makeup.


And it's faced its fair share of challenges both here and overseas.


It's an early start for SBS Radio's Arabic program.


The team broadcasts at 6am, seven days a week.


Their beat is one of the world's most complex - and they've been covering it for SBS since 1975.


Marie Myssy is the program's executive producer.


She started her career reporting on the conflict in Lebanon.


Since then she's covered many stories including the Arab spring, conflicts in Iraq and Syria and the impact of terrorism laws on the community.


"Covering the Arab world, as we say, is always a challenge, for example when I first started I was covering the Lebanese war and everyday I was counting the dead. And you know Lebanon is such a small country. Nearly we all know each other and we know the areas. It was so close to home it was really a challenge. And then after that, other wars. But lately the challenge for us was covering terrorism and home-grown terrorism."


She's been with the program for 35 years and says the community can at times feel under siege.


"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."


A big challenge for the program is covering stories from 22 diverse countries where Arabic is the official language.


2011 census data reveals there are about 287,000 Arabic speakers in Australia.


Around 40 per cent were born here, followed by those born in Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.


There are also smaller communities from many other Arabic-speaking countries including Sudan and Syria.


Marie Myssy points out the community is much more diverse - spiritually, culturally and ethnically - than many people think.


"People sometimes they have this perception that Arabs are Muslims. That is not the case. Of course most of the Arabic speaking people are Muslims. But you have a sizeable population of Christians. Especially in Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Iraq. We have Arab Jews too. It's like a mosaic you have everything. Arabs are not a race. You have for example people who have blue eyes, red hair, some people are dark-skinned and others are in between. So there is no standard Arab. "


Randa Kattan is from the Arab Council of Australia.


She's seen the community grow and thrive over the last few decades, but she's also seen negative public perceptions overshadow its achievements.


"I think when you want to bring out the strength, the negative far outweighs it sometimes in the public domain. But I think the resilience of the community, the growth, the development with particular groups and people, their contribution to Australia has been enormous. And we see those, but they don't come to the attention of the media. Unfortunately the media has been targeting bad elements thousands of miles away and bringing it to our shores and that's the attention the Arab community gets these days."


Hachem El-Haddad writes and presents the news for the program.


He says he approaches the future of the Arabic-speaking world with cautious optimism.


"When the violence subsides in the Middle East, if it does, we are going to see a different Middle East. The Middle East as we know it will cease to exist. But what will come out of it I think is something spectacular - and scary, to say the least."


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