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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berlusconi Smarting From Bill's Veto

ROME -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was reeling from a new blow Tuesday after a bill that critics say was tailor-made for his media empire was rejected by the Italian president.

"It's a significant setback and it has certainly angered Berlusconi," said Franco Pavoncello, a professor of political science at John Cabot University in Rome.

"It is likely the beginning of a couple of weeks of political conflict."

President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi late Monday rejected the controversial media bill, which relaxes limits on media ownership, and sent it back to parliament.

It was the first time Ciampi had refused to sign a bill into law for anything other than budget reasons and his decision was expected to raise tensions in Berlusconi's center-right coalition, which was already talking about a settling of scores at a planned meeting in January.

"It's a harsh blow to the executive power and above all to the prime minister," La Stampa wrote in an editorial Tuesday.

"The one thing that is certain is that coalition review has another delicate topic as of yesterday," the newspaper said.

Ciampi said the media bill, which was approved by the governing coalition's majority in parliament, failed to guarantee plurality in the media and could lead to the formation of dominant positions, especially in the area of advertising.

Berlusconi, who through his political office and business interests influences an estimated 95 percent of Italian television, appeared nonchalant ahead of the rejection.

"I will take into account what the head of the state says. And of the eventual changes he might propose," he said after a meeting with Ciampi. "If the changes were intelligent, parliament would take that into account."

The law would ease limits on media ownership and advertising revenues and pave the way for the partial privatization of state broadcaster RAI.

Critics say it favors the Berlusconi family's holding company Fininvest, which controls Italy's largest media empire, including the broadcaster Mediaset, and would enable it to extend its already considerable reach.

One of the first headaches for Berlusconi is the threat of Rete 4, one of Mediaset's three TV channels, being forced to move to satellite, which analysts say would mean a lower audience and thus a drop in advertising appeal.

Parliament can now amend the media bill based on Ciampi's observations or vote on the law again without making any changes.

If it passes a second time, Ciampi would be obliged to sign the bill into law.

But whatever the outcome, Ciampi has already turned up the heat on Berlusconi, still recovering from a turbulent time at the European Union helm, and facing a increasingly fractious coalition.

EU constitution talks spectacularly collapsed during the weekend in the final days of the Italian presidency, with some critics blaming Berlusconi for the failure.

"We could say that Berlusconi has not had a good week," Pavoncello said, adding that he still expected the prime minister to eventually get out of his latest scrape.