East Timorese president Jose Ramos-Horta personally presented the award for excellence in journalism to SBS Managing Director Shaun Brown in Sydney
"For 20 years or more, I have always had fond memories and respect for this institution," Dr Ramos-Horta said.
"When most ignored (the problems in East Timor), SBS provided us with the coverage, the hope ... that somehow we still exist, and you have done this with outstanding professionalism and quality."
Dr Ramos Horta has been in Australia for the launch of the film Balibo, based on the true story of the Balibo Five, a group of Australian-based journalists killed in East Timor in 1975.
Along with the medal came a citation, honouring SBS for being a voice of democracy, freedom, justice and truth for the past 30 years.
The citation says SBS has drawn attention to the forgotten places in the world and to the overlooked victims of war.