On 14th April 2006 ARC Fund convened the founding meeting of a Public Council on Safer Internet Use in Bulgaria. The council will oversee the activities of a national Safer Internet Hotline, which ARC Fund operates since September last year as part of the EU Safer Internet Program.
The founding meeting was held the National Parliament building under the co-chairmanship of Mr. Svetoslav Spassov, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Children, Youth and Sports and Ms. Dinka Dinkova, Program Director of ARC Fund.
Twenty-four representatives of public institutions, business sector and non-governmental organizations and mass media participated in the Public Council’s kick-off meeting: two government agencies – the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) and State Agency for Information Technologies and Communications; two ministries – the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Education and Science; 4 large companies – Bulgarian Telecommunications Company, Cisco Systems-Bulgaria, NETIS and Netera LTD.; several business associations and citizens’ groups – BASSCOM (Bulgarian Association of IT companies), the Internet Society-Bulgaria, Parents Association, Association of Media Users; and 3 non-governmental organizations – Law and Internet Foundation, Center for the Study of Democracy, and ARC Fund.
MP Spassov opened the meeting emphasizing the importance of the Safer Internet Plus program and the need to establish the first Bulgarian Hotline for illegal and harmful Internet content. He expressed his belief that the Bulgarian Hotline operation will be a success.
Mrs. Shirin Mestan, Chairperson of SACP, said that from its very beginning five years ago, the Agency has invested serious efforts into protecting the rights of children and fighting child abuse on the Internet included. Establishing a national Safer Internet Hotline will help extend the activities and broaden the outreach of the fight against child exploitation, Mrs. Mestan said.
Mr. Plamen Vachkov, Chairman of SAITC, emphasized the importance of establishing a Public Safer Internet Council in Bulgaria. The Council’s activities should help coordinate all initiatives and efforts ongoing in the country for fighting child pornography and other illegal and harmful content and activities on the Internet, and raise public awareness about the risks of Internet use. The European Union is a pioneer in the global efforts for Safer Internet, said Mr.Vachkov. He said that ARC Fund and SAITC have joined efforts in several initiatives, including the organization of the Safer Internet Day 2006 (held on 7 February) and the worldwide “blogathon” for safer internet. Mr. Vachkov wished success to the national Hotline and expressed his belief that its operation will be helpful in fighting the dangers in Internet.
Mrs. Evgenia Kostadinova, Director of Directorate “General Policy in Education” at the Ministry of Education and Science presented the MES policies for widening the Internet access at schools and improving the IT education. By the end of 2006, all Bulgarian schools will have Internet access, and the existence of a national Safer Internet Hotline could help inform the students about the possible dangers of Internet use, Mrs. Kostadinova said.
Mrs. Rumyana Kamberska of SACP presented the Guidelines for Internet Use for children and parents, which had been prepared by ARC Fund for the meeting of the Public Council. She emphasized the need to circulate these rules widely to all the schools and parents organizations in the country.
Mr. Nikolay Badinski, Executive Director of ARC Fund, presented a draft of the Safer Internet Hotline Operational Procedures and Statutes for the future work of the Public Council. This was followed by a lively discussion during which several amendments to both texs were proposed. It was decided that ARC Fund should incorporate the amendments into the drafts and circulate the revised versions of the documents to all members before the next meeting of the Council.
At its next meeting in May, the Public Council will adopt its Statutes, elect a chairman and two vice-chairmen – one representing the government and the other, the private sector, and adopt the Hotline’s Operational Procedures.