The RIPE@2018 Call for Paper Proposals!


18 – 20 October in Madrid, Spain


Universalism and Public Service Media


We are pleased to invite paper proposals for the ninth biennial RIPE conference that will be hosted by the School of Communication at the University of Navarra and sponsored by RTVE Spain. The conference will take place at RTVE and the University campus in Madrid.  

The RIPE@2018 conference theme focuses on challenges and opportunities in achieving the universal service mission in the era of media abundance. The principle of universalism has four dimensions: 1) access and reach, 2) genres and services, 3) relevance and impact, and 4) financing with attendant obligations. Providing universal service is a legal requirement for PSM that has crucial importance for the potential of the enterprise to cultivate enlightenment, encourage social cohesion, and provide a fair, full and equitable range of media services. How practical is this aspect of the PSM mission today? What is outdated in our understandings? What remains as vital as ever – perhaps more so today? What does universalism mean now, and what are the implications? Can universalism be accomplished in each of the four key dimensions, and if so how?

The mission and principle of universal service matters because ‘the public’ as such is the fundamental focus of PSM, although no longer with a capital P as if people are a uniform, mass entity at an exclusively national purview. The mission pertains to people as citizens, above all, but it also pertains to their roles and activities as media consumers and content creators in the light of growing concerns about polarization, filter bubbles, declines in media trust, and the proliferation of fake news and bots that push propaganda for the purposes of misleading and splintering populations. The provision of ‘service’ is still the most essential objective for PSM, but what that entails and how it can be achieved is less certain and more varied. It is clearly no longer solely about producing content. One must also be careful about how fragmentation is understood because social cohesion has always been challenging and variation is related to differences in tastes, interests, needs and preferences among people as media users and choosers.  

Older audiences still rely on linear broadcasting in most countries, while younger people increasingly prefer online services. The universalism challenge is especially pointed in efforts to reach and serve younger audiences. The core challenge is how to develop the PSM remit and transform public service in media for all audiences – and not only as ‘audiences’ per se. Beyond generational differences, PSM must deal more effectively with both identity differences and shared needs among people in multicultural societies, and especially between majority and minority communities with diverse cultures and social experiences. This is especially important with regard to serving immigrant groups and social movements. Moreover, while the national purview of PSM is still extremely important, international sources of supply proliferate, demand is increasingly variable, and regional pressures are growing within nations. All of this, as the costs for providing PSM are rising and revenue has become insecure. Trust in public institutions has declined in many countries and traditional media institutions are often viewed with suspicion and criticised for being too politicised. The remit for PSM is seriously at question and views on what it should and should not entail today is hotly contested. This sketch contextualises the complications involved with achieving the universalism mission in PSM in the 21st century, and underlines the need for a thorough rethinking of what that means and how what is most relevant today can be achieved in practice.  

Empirical and comparative research is especially needed to clarify the parameters of universalism and renew meanings that are relevant today across the four dimensions specified above. The following aspects are especially important and will comprise the workgroup structure for the RIPE@2018 conference:

1. Rethinking the universalism mission in PSM

  • What remains relevant from the historic mission, and what is outdated? How realistic is this mission today?
  • What are characteristic and important interpretations of universalism in each of the four specified dimensions?
  • Are there significant differences in how this mission is understood across languages, countries and decades? If so, what can be learned from this?
  • In the provision of universalism, what is best accomplished in partnerships with other media companies and cultural institutions? And what is best accomplished by audiences as creators and co-creators?
  • What are the implications of universalism for media policy today?

2. The nature and variety of publics, and implications for PSM

  • What are the obligations and implications of universalism in public media today?
  • Does PSM strengthen social cohesion? If so, how and to what affect? If not why not, and is this problematic?
  • How does universalism accommodate diversity of tastes and interests among different groups of all types?
  • How are people using media today, especially PSM? Are they consuming more variety and greater abundance, or narrowing options and consuming more of the same?
  • Beyond mainstream audiences, how is PSM serving minority groups of all types – social, ethnic, linguistic, gendered, indigenous, immigrant, etc.? What problems does this pose for policy and operations?
  • What are the challenges that PSM faces globally in efforts to deal effectively with the needs of minorities both within Europe and also beyond?

3. The nature and value of PSM services

  • How much diversity of content is media abundance producing? Who is being served and who is neglected?  
  • To what degree is PSM exceptional when compared with other media, and in what ways – quality, innovation, trust and credibility, variety, independence, responsiveness, transparency, accountability?
  • What is especially important for contemporary production of public service content? What are the continuities and changes that matter most, and why? And what matters beyond content per se?
  • How can PSM balance relevance for society as a whole and individual relevance among users and choosers – i.e., the complicated relations between general services and personalisation? What are the implications for universalism?

4. PSM cross-platform publishing and distribution strategies

  • What platform priorities matter most for PSM, and why? Do priorities differ across populations? Do they differ across platforms?
  • How should we understand operational dimensions of universalism for the development of strategies to address fragmentation, intolerance and polarisation?
  • How are audiences included, enabled and facilitated as producers and distributors of content they provide, and what are the public service implications?
  • Which emerging technology developments present the greatest opportunities and challenges for PSM in renewing and achieving the universalism mission?
  • What are the comparative priorities, roles and tensions when comparing general contents and services versus niche contents and services?

5. Organisational restructuring and management in PSM

  • What does the universalism mission mean for PSM strategy and operational designs in contemporary media environments?
  • Given growing indications of an eventual end to broadcasting as PSM organisations move their services online, what are the key challenges, complications and affordances for universalism that are entailed in this shift?
  • How is partnership operationalised in efforts to fulfil this mission today, and to what affect? Where does this work well and why, and where is it failing and why?
  • To what extent is organisational restructuring an extension of legacy structures, a mutation of them, or something entirely new? What are the drivers?
  • What areas of managerial competence require significant improvement, and why? Does this vary at different levels of management in PSM organisations?

6. Governance, accountability and funding for PSM

  • How does the legal construction of PSM, which is keyed to the remit assigned to the institution, enable and limit the potential to fulfil the universalism mission? What needs updating in the remit, and why?
  • To what degree is ‘the public’ a prioritised consideration in PSM governance? What affordances are provided by PSM for public participation and on what basis – is it mandated, voluntarily accommodated, grudgingly tolerated (or not)?
  • What is the impact of PSM contents and services in various countries, and what accounts for higher and lower degrees of impact?
  • How transparent are PSM organisations? What should and should not be openly published, and why?
  • How can accountability be balanced with the competitive needs of PSM organisations in market environments?
  • How is the accomplishment of public service measured and reported? What is needed that is still lacking? What is working, and where?
  • What complications do commercial revenue pose for the universalism mission, with what assets or benefits in fulfilling the mission?


Paper proposals will be peer reviewed according to these format specifications:

  • On page 1, provide the paper’s working title, the author/s and contact information.
  • On page 2 repeat the title but exclude author/s identification. Provide an extended abstract (max 700 words) addressing seven elements for evaluation (below)
  • At the top of page 2 indicate which two workgroups offer the best fit.

Please submit your proposal as a Word file at this link:

(The file will be converted to a PDF file for peer review, without page 1).

All submissions will be peer-reviewed (double-blind) by a scientific committee. The evaluation criteria are:

  1. Relevance to the conference theme
  2. Main research question(s) and what is new or original
  3. Theories used and general approach
  4. Research methods and design (for empirical papers)
  5. Core argument (for philosophical papers)
  6. Key findings and implications for theory
  7. Relevance for PSM management and practice

Empirical research is highly valued, but we also welcome insightful philosophical, critical and theory-driven papers. Comparative research is very important.

RIPE conferences focus on substance, dialogue and results. We therefore limit acceptance to about 60 papers and each is assigned to one of the workgroups. Given that 9-12 papers are assigned per group, every paper has sufficient time for presentation and, importantly, enrichening discussion.

Submissions are due 2 April. Decisions about acceptance will announced on 30 April. Completed papers are due on 1 October 2018.

The conference happens over 2.5 days with a welcoming reception the night before the first day and the inaugural RIPE General Assembly on the afternoon of the third day. The GA will deliberate on a new leadership structure for the initiative going forward. The conference language is English.

Conference fees will be announced at a later date. A discount for PhD students is planned. The fee will cover conference meals, events and materials, but not hotel accommodation or travel. Based on the level of interest, a non-obligatory social programme might be planned for the day after the conference at an additional cost for those interested to participate. The RIPE conference does not supplement personal travel costs.