Berlusconi tries to halt Cielo launch

News Corp.'s DTT channel delays take off

Cielo, News Corp.’s new Italo digital terrestrial TV channel, has suffered a double blow, with red tape blocking this week’s launch and the Italian government questioning whether the channel breaks competition law.

Cielo execs announced the channel would not air this week as skedded because authorization from the communications ministry had not arrived on time. But in a terse denial of responsibility for the delay, undersecretary for communications Paolo Romani said that a 60-day approval period had yet to expire.

If it bows, Rupert Murdoch’s new channel will take on a terrestrial TV market dominated by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s own Mediaset group of webs and pubcaster RAI.

Murdoch’s satcaster Sky Italia already dominates the Italo pay TV field.

The pair are old sparring partners — Romani accused Cielo of advertising upcoming “content denigrating the entire Italian administration.”

The Italian government on Tuesday asked European Union regulators whether News Corp.’s plans for Cielo broke competition rules.

When the EU approved the launch of Sky Italia in 2003, it barred News Corp. from launching digital terrestrial channels before 2012 in an effort to boost competition.

Riccardo Chiattelli, head of programming for Cielo, has denied that the launch would breach EU regulations.

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