Saudi Arabia hires PR veteran and former Katie Couric producer for media consulting

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 14, 2021.

Bandar Saudi Press Agency | Handout | Via Reuters

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has hired a public relations executive who was once a producer for news anchor Katie Couric to work as a media-relations consultant.

Nicolla Hewitt, who has run her own communications firm for over a decade, is joining the ranks of American influencers who work for the kingdom. The government, which is run by a royal family, has been accused of human rights abuses.

Saudi Arabia is led in large part by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. NBC News reported in 2018 that he ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, something the crown prince has denied. Former President Donald Trump, at the time, stood by Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s death. The two nations had signed a nearly $110 billion arms deal a year earlier.

A new disclosure recently filed with the Department of Justice says Hewitt will be conducting freelance work for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Media and “will perform general public relations and media outreach services, including outreach to broadcast, print and social media about the changing way of life in Saudi Arabia.”

The document notes that Hewitt is conducting her work for the Ministry of Media through a company called Thiqah Business Services. According to the business magazine Eye of Riyadh, Thiqah Business Services is a “100% government company owned by Saudi Authority for Accredited Valuers and Saudi Organization for Certified Public Accountants.”

The disclosure form shows that Hewitt, prior to the filing, was actively working for the Saudi government’s media agency throughout last year. According to a Saudi government website, the Ministry of Media “supervises all means of visual, audio and written communication content in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

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The form lists reporters whom Hewitt contacted while she represented the Saudi government, including those at CNBC, NBC News, CBS News, the New York Post and CNN. Public relations representatives often pitch reporters on stories for their clients.

Thiqah paid Hewitt a retainer of over $15,000 from Thiqah in November and December, according to the form.

An email sent to Hewitt’s firm was not returned before publication. Thiqah Business Services did not return an email seeking comment.

Hewitt is the latest American representative to be hired by Saudi Arabia in a bid to influence U.S. audiences and officials.

Shortly after President Joe Biden was elected in 2020, Saudi Arabia hired several new lobbyists in a signal that the country was planning an updated influence campaign that could target the new administration and incoming Congress. The kingdom has also been aiming to fund a new digital news platform with a headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Hewitt has prior experience in the Middle East and was on the board of the U.N. Women for Peace, according to her namesake firm’s website. Her LinkedIn page says she worked with Couric at Yahoo News, CBS News and NBC News.

Her firm’s website also lists Bloomberg Philanthropies, Stand up To Cancer and Girl Rising as some of their past clients.

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