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Seminar on Public-Private Partnerships in the Area of Safer Internet Use
 
On 16 July 2008 the Center for the Study of Democracy, together with the Consultative Council with the European Affairs Committee of the Bulgarian National Assembly, held a seminar, entitled Public-Private Partnerships in the Area of Justice, Freedom and Security: the New EU Programme on Safer Use of the Internet with an audience of Members of Parliament, representatives of governmental institutions, NGO’s and experts. The event was organized as part of the activity of the Center under the project Strengthening the Capacity of the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) for Forming Public-Private Partnerships to Implement the Standards and Practices of the EU in the Area of Justice, Freedom and Security, implemented with the support of the Operational Programme Administrative Capacity (OPAC), co-financed by the European Union through the European Social Fund.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Dimitar Markov, Project Coordinator at the CSD Law Program, reminded the audience that the Center and the Applied Research and Communication Fund (ARC Fund), which operates the Bulgarian Hotline for Illegal and Harmful Content on the Internet and functions as Secretariat for the National Public Council on Safer Internet Use in Bulgaria, had been working for a long time on the issues of safer Internet use. He thanked the European Affairs Committee of the Bulgarian National Assembly, which supported the event as part of the overall framework of co-operation between the Center and the Parliament. Mr. Markov noted that the event was part of the creation, under the OPAC project, of a network of non-governmental organizations, working in the area of justice, freedom and security.

Mr. Dimitar Hadzhinikolov, Secretary of the Consultative Council with the Parliamentary European Affairs Committee, expressed his gratitude to the organizers of the seminar and reiterated that the Committee was a relatively new structure with the Parliament and the Consultative Council aimed to support the democratic aspects of its work. The Council had already discussed the Center’s policy brief on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a multiannual Community programme on protecting children using the Internet and other communication technologies - COM (2008) 106 – and the results of the discussion, as well as the conclusions of the seminar, would be included, by proposal of the Parliament, in the report of the Council of Ministers, comprising the recommendations of Bulgaria towards the European Commission in the area of safer Internet use.

Mr. Georgi Apostolov, Coordinator of the Safer Internet Programme of ARC Fund, briefly presented the main findings in the Center’s Policy Brief Bulgaria and the EU Programme on Protecting Children Using the Internet. According to Mr. Apostolov the Internet is already part of the reality of teenagers, who use it primarily for communication. That is why whatever happens in the virtual world, including acts of discrimination and violence, soon becomes part of the offline environment. The proposed Decision concerns 4 main actions - reducing illegal content and tackling harmful conduct online; promoting a safer online environment; ensuring public awareness; and establishing a knowledge base on the new information and communication technologies and their use by children. The brief gives a number of recommendations as to what Bulgaria could propose to the European Commission, regarding the draft Decision – to elaborate a directive, regulating the activity of mobile operators in the EU in the area, to support more active self-regulation of social network and video-sharing websites, to promote better cooperation between educational institutions and the National Centres for Safer Internet and to provide funds, as well as a uniform methodology, for research on the actions and inter-actions of children on the Internet. The Bulgarian government is recommended to sign and ratify some cornerstone documents in the area of computer crime and sexual abuse of children, as well as to introduce the PEGI Pan European age rating system for interactive games. More active support of state institutions for the National Safer Internet Center should be ensured, while the national activities in the area should be coordinated not by the Ministry of Culture, but by the State Agency for Information Technologies and Communication or the Ministry of Education and Science.

In the ensuing discussion Ms. Jivka Marinova, Executive Director of the Gender Education, Research and Technologies Foundation, noted that Bulgaria should not wait for EC funding to make its own national survey on children and the Internet. Ms. Radiona Nikova, Director of Programmes, European Integration and International Cooperation Directorate at the State Agency for the Protection of Children, briefly described the activities of the Agency and the Public Council on Safer Internet Use together with NGO’s and the business community, noting that children should be looked at not just as object of impact, but also as resource for solving the problems, related to safer Internet use. As example, she pointed out the Agency’s initiative for developing interactive games without violence, as well as the website of the Chief Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (CDCOC), receiving signals on illegal Internet content. Ms. Nikova also described the activity of the hotline on children at risk and the transition to the introduction of the global child helpline 116.

Ms. Darinka Stancheva, Member of the European Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, assured that she would make an inquiry as to what stage the ratification process was on for the international instruments on safer Internet and elaborated on the need for more flexible financing of NGO’s and conducting research in the area under discussion. In this sense Mr. Dimitar Markov noted the gap, existing in Bulgaria, between the funding of NGO’s, their research projects and the making of state policies. He appealed to the responsible institutions to form clear priorities for financing NGO’s from the state budget. This appeal was seconded by Ms. Stancheva, who said she would initiate an open session of the European Affairs Committee and the Committee on Youth and Sport, where the issues could be discussed in more detail.

Mr. Nikolai Kamov, Member of Parliament, reiterated that the conclusions of the seminar should have high impact and one of the instruments for this could be the Annual Report on Children and Youth, which the State Agency for Youth and Sports submits to the National Assembly each year. Mr. Kamov confirmed the commitment of the Members of Parliament, attending the event, to inquire as to the stage of the ratification process of the two international instruments on safer Internet and to elaborate and submit draft laws for ratification.

Mr. Peycho Peev, State Expert in the National Statistical Institute, proposed that research funding may be sought within the framework of the working groups in the European Commission, preparing the European Victimological Survey. Ms. Jivka Marinova emphasized again the importance of prevention of offences, committed by or towards children. The subject of prevention was also tackled by Mr. Yavor Kolev, Chief of Computer Crime Sector with the CDCOC, who told the audience about the initiative of his sector to go and educate children in schools about safer Internet use. Mr. Kolev also proposed the elaboration of special audiovisual material to improve the methodology of the lectures. Ms. Eva Golovinska, Senior Expert at the State Agency for the Protection of Children, noted that research on children and the Internet should be more specific and used as example an upcoming research project on the communication on the Internet and the cognitive development of children.

In the afternoon working session on the problems of safer Internet use, CSD and ARC Fund experts continued the discussion on the Center’s policy brief and noted avenues for the implementation of specific measures, listed in the recommendations of the document.

Program and Presentations

CSD Brief No 17: Bulgaria and the Multiannual Community Programme on Protecting Children Using the Internet (PDF, 316 KB, only in Bulgarian)

 
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