By Arun Sudhaman

LONDON: Al Jazeera is searching for a UK PR agency to help it shed a lingering reputation for being the “mouthpiece of terror”.

The Qatar-based global news channel has issued a brief to a number of UK agencies, with the overall aim of growing its viewer numbers in the UK and Europe.

Al Jazeera launched its English network in late 2006, appointing Brown Lloyd James (BLJ) to handle PR for the international launch, with a particular brief to distance the new offering from its Arabic version. When contacted however, a spokesperson at BLJ said that the agency had stopped working on the account in 2008.

According to sources, the channel is looking to boost flagging viewer numbers in the UK and Europe. “People just don’t mention it as being part of their viewing,” said one source. “They have great content but people just don’t watch it. There was a fantastic big bang when it came out but it’s gone off the radar.”

Another source said that one of the challenges, mentioned specifically in the brief, is Al Jazeera’s historic reputation. “There is a feeling amongst some people that it is a biased news view that is somehow in favour of Islamic fundamentalism.”

While that view of Al Jazeera is particularly common in the US, it is understood that the channel’s Doha-based marketing team see it as an underlying issue in the UK as well.

“They see that as a barrier to consideration,” continued the source. “It’s not the number one issue on the brief but it’s an issue to bear in mind.”

Prior to its 2006 launch Al Jazeera English hired a number of high-profile TV journalists, including David Frost, Rageh Omar and Riz Khan. The network’s stated objective is “to give voice to untold stories, promote debate, and challenge established perceptions.”

“The main goal is to create awareness of quite what a sophisticated news organisation they are,” added the source.

Agencies are believed to be making written submissions in response to the brief to Al Jazeeara’s marketing HQ in Qatar.