RIPE is an acronym for Re-Visionary Interpretations of the Public Enterprise. Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) has a rich history in Europe, an interesting but shorter history in the USA, and is now beginning to emerge in the wider world. There is growing interest to develop a public service media sector in many countries where governments and citizens are committed to healthy democracies and domestic media contents and services.
Where PSB has deep roots and a strong presence, the biggest challenges in recent decades are related to preserving the sector and making the transition to PSM — online services as well as traditional broadcasting. In countries without a PSB heritage, the essential challenge is to create a public service system of some kind. That is a complicated task because there is often a legacy of state media that people confuse with public media, and there are powerful commercial interests that often resist this development for fear of unwanted competition. Increasingly the RIPE network is looking not only at traditional institutional arrangements, but also non-institutional approaches. We believe there will be a lot for European PSM organisations to learn from the rest of the world in the future.
Financing has been complicated in recent years by economic recession, budget cutting and austerity measures. The ‘licence fee’ approach to funding is falling out of favour politically and in popular preferences. Costs and complexity continue to increase with each wave of new digital technology, most recently with the investments required to develop mobile media services. Audiences are more fragmented and young people, especially, perceive the role and function of media differently than earlier generations. International pressures are growing and create complications because PSB is primarily domestic. It is supposed to be facilitator of home language programming and services intended to satisfy the distinctive social, cultural and democratic needs of host societies.
The RIPE network is discussing, debating, critiquing and conceptualising what is needed to guarantee public service in media today. This international project that is dedicated to reinventing, redefining, and recreating the meanings and practices of public service in media. Although much of the original idea in PSB has continuing relevance despite rapid and sweeping changes, it is clear that conditions, needs and situations are much different and more varied today.
RIPE is devoted to strengthening collaboration between media researchers and (mainly) strategic managers (i.e. university-industry collaboration). The RIPE network has about 300 members at present. These distinctive communities are interrelated but independent. Collaboration isn’t always easy, but it is the best way to achieve innovation. We are constantly working to ensure that each community receives good value from participation, with the understanding that what counts as ‘good’ varies according to professional criteria in each community.
The RIPE initiative is managed by Professor Gregory Ferrell Lowe who heads the Media Management programme at the University of Tampere, a graduate studies programme in the School of Communication, Media & Theatre. Prof. Lowe is the RIPE Continuity Director and his role is mainly to secure the continual development of this initiative in practical terms. He does this as a voluntary service. Prof. Lowe earlier worked (1997 – 2007) as Senior Adviser for Corporate Strategy & Development at Ylesiradio (Yle), the Finnish national PSB company, and was the Head of Programme Development for several years (2002-2005). He is American with a background in commercial radio.
The ‘RIPE model’ has been developed over the years to 1) ensure results that benefit both scholarly and practitioner interests, 2) encourage discursive engagement and collaboration between the two communities, and 3) produce a conference experience that is valued by participants for both scholarly and networking experience — what we refer to as ‘the RIPE Experience’. In our view, the informal links and shared social experience is as important for long-term development as the formal aspects and professional accomplishments. RIPE is about fertilizing creativity and encouraging innovation, not for its own sake but for the well-being of democratic and cultural life and the health of social relations.
The model has two components. The first is a bi-annual conference in the even years and the second is the publication of a RIPE Reader in the odd years. The later features thoroughly developed chapters that originated from selected conference papers, in each case ‘the cream of the crop’ as a cross-section of those that best addressed varied pertinent aspects of the selected theme for each conference. Those selected for inclusion in each Reader represent roughly the top 10% (and are subjected to peer review). Each Reader has a specific theme, and all are produced with the goal of achieving both theoretical importance and strategic implication.
Each conference is co-sponsored by a leading public service media company and hosted by a leading university department or school in the field of media research and teaching in each national context. Typically there are additional supporting sponsors that may include national research academies, media foundations, government ministries, and civil society organisations.
The conference is limited by design to about 60 scholarly papers to facilitate deep discussion, focused thematic work in topical workgroups, and robust networking. Each conference includes about 20 managerial and policy-maker participants, on average. The first day is always held at the practitioner host’s headquarters and the other two days at the university host site. Conference sponsors organise sociable events with a keen appreciation for local culture and flavour as an important part of the RIPE Experience enjoyed by all participants.
There have been seven RIPE conferences to date, all organised by Gregory Ferrell Lowe, the RIPE Continuity Director, in collaboration with the local sponsoring public service media organisation and a leading university in media research and education:
8 The RIPE@2016 conference was organised collaboratively with VRT Belgium, the PSB organisation for the Flemish-speaking community, and the University of Antwerp in partnership with the Free University of Brussels. The theme was Public Service Media in a Networked Society?
9 The RIPE@2018 conference is being organised collaboratively with RTVE Spain (Corporación de Radio y Televisión Española) and the University of Navarra in Pamplona. The theme is to be decided. Look for updated information in late autumn 2017.
You can learn more about the book series, called RIPE Readers, (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015) by visiting the Nordicom website (Nordic Information Centre for Media and Communication Research), the publisher for the series. All of the RIPE Readers through 2015 are available as free downloads in PDF format! You can also purchase printed copies for about €30 euros each. The RIPE@2017 Reader is currently being edited and will publish in late 2017 or early 2018, depending on the peer review process. The title is Public Service Media in the Networked Society, co-edited by Gregory Ferrell Lowe with Hilde Van den Bulck and Karen Donders.