“TV’s favourite doctor” should be in hot water for plugging hot tubs (and the rest)

  1. The outside promotional activities of Good Morning Britain’s (GMB) health editor, Dr Hilary Jones, who’s a GP, risk undermining both his and the TV programme’s editorial integrity. GMB’s handling of my complaint about his outside promotional activities was itself unsatisfactory and confused: the programme initially stated, erroneously, that Dr Jones doesn’t endorse specific health-related products and services. It then altered its position after I’d shown that he DOES endorse specific health-related products and services; many of them. One of his national press ads last summer was unclear and misleading. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agreed. The dishonest ad shames self-styled “TV’s favourite doctor”. Finally, both Dr Jones’ personal website and his Twitter feed merge content from his different activities, including his outside promotional activities, without disclosing commercial relationships. The GMB website links to both Dr Jones’ personal website and his Twitter feed.
  2. Last summer, I became fed up of seeing so often GMB’s health editor, Dr Jones, plugging products in national press ads. His outside promotional activities risk undermining both his and the TV programme’s editorial integrity. There’s a clear conflict of interest between his role as health editor on GMB and his endorsement of health-related products and services. This conflict of interest, which is entirely avoidable, risks undermining both his and the breakfast TV programme’s editorial integrity and credibility. So I asked GMB in an email: Why are you seemingly happy to damage your reputation in this way? I put the same question to Dr Jones’ “management team” in an email, too (screen shot in Figure 1).

    Figure 1. Contact Dr Hilary Jones at 28 July 2016

  3. I didn’t receive a response from his named representative, Kim Chapman, but I did hear from Andrew (no second name supplied), viewer services officer at GMB. He initially stated, erroneously, that Dr Jones doesn’t endorse specific health-related products and services: “Dr Jones’ work for other organisations does not include directly endorsing or selling specific health related products but stresses the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own health and making informed decisions. This might include stressing the importance of having free hearing tests if you are over 50 or considering a stairlift if you are disabled and challenged by stairs but don’t want to move home. It is generic and general medical advice which any doctor might give their patients in the surgery but on a wider scale.”
  4. Despite what Andrew initially said in his email, Dr Jones DOES endorse specific health-related products and services; many of them. The GMB response mentions stairlifts: the medic currently appears in national press ads for Acorn stairlifts. A photo of “TV’s Dr Hilary Jones” with his signature appears prominently on the company homepage, too. Similarly, he also advertises Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd, a supplier of bathrooms for those with mobility problems. Dr Jones styles himself as “TV’s favourite doctor” in some national press ads and other promotional material for the company.
  5. On 30 March 2017, on a single page in the Daily Mail newspaper, p.67, Dr Jones appeared in two separate ads for health-related products and services: one for Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd, the other for a product called The Eye Doctor. While overleaf there he was again in yet another ad – for Acorn stairlifts!
  6. Making informed decisions” is key for our health, as Andrew at GMB says. So it’s ironic that one of Dr Jones’ recent national press ads with Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd was unclear and misleading, although it’s expressly about advice and information to help informed decision-making! Here’s a scanned copy of the ad, which appeared in the Daily Mail on 12 July 2016: Daily Mail 12 July 2016 (I saw it in other newspapers.) He’s promoting his “independent bathing guide,” itself a misleading title (the word “independent” is ambiguous), which contains “the key information required to make an informed decision”. The ad shows the cover of the guide, proclaiming “expert advice from TV’s favourite doctor”. The ad was unclear and misleading because it fails to disclose that the guide is produced “in association with” a business – Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd. There’s no mention of the firm. The omission in the ad precludes an informed decision about the credibility and provenance of the free guide.
  7. I complained about the unclear and misleading ad to the ASA. On 28 September 2016, the advertising watchdog included the ad from Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd in that week’s list of “informally resolved cases”: https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-and-rulings/rulings.html. The ASA’s “informally resolved cases” are those where the advertiser in the complaint “agreed to amend or withdraw advertising without the need for a formal investigation.”
  8. As you can see, the ASA’s reporting of “informally resolved cases” is inadequate. There’s no record of how the ad is unsatisfactory (i.e. details of the upheld complaint) – only company name, industry sector and medium in which the ad appeared. Big deal. For the ASA’s naming and shaming to be more effective, unsatisfactory ads should be described. Instead, by hiding the details of the ad, the ASA helps Dr Jones and Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd to avoid scrutiny. Why?
  9. What’s worse, Dr Jones’ free guide itself is unacceptable. (I obtained a copy.) This is because the “expert advice from TV’s favourite doctor” finishes with his recommending, er, the company he’s paid to endorse, Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd.
  10. I wrote again to Ms Chapman requesting, among other things, a comment on the ad in light of the ASA’s disapproval and action. This time I received a response, but Ms Chapman declined to comment on the ad.
  11. On 12 July 2016, there were two photos of Dr Jones in the Daily Mirror newspaper. The first, on p.32, accompanied an article in the “Your Health” section previewing an upcoming GMB report on use of anabolic steroids by gym-goers. There was a long quote from GMB’s doctor in a standalone section headed “The dangers of gym drugs”. Dr Jones popped up again on p.45 – advertising Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd.
  12. Another claim from Andrew must be challenged – alleged separation of roles: “Indeed Dr Jones takes great care, as do we, that none of his other media work uses his title of Good Morning Britain’s Health Editor for this very reason. Consequently his work outside the TV programme does not have a bearing on the views he expresses on ITV and vice versa.”
  13. GMB may take “great care” about use by Dr Jones of his job title of GMB’s health editor. Nevertheless the GMB website links to both Dr Jones’ personal website and his Twitter feed (screen shot in Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Dr Hilary Jones on GMB website at 18 July 2016

  14. As he says on his homepage, it’s “vital” that medical information for the public is “reliable and accurate”. There Dr Jones directs people to his Twitter feed “where you will receive up-to-date topical, seasonal advice plus recent articles and TV broadcasts.” But among official NHS information and health advice his 26.4k Twitter followers (at date of publication) also receive tweets that fail to disclose the commercial relationships between Dr Jones and numerous companies he mentions. It’s only when you visit the company websites that you discover that “TV’s favourite doctor” has a financial interest.
  15. True, the 140-character limit of a tweet doesn’t always make disclosure easy. But Dr Jones doesn’t even declare any interests in his Twitter biography (screen shot in Figure 3). In fact, it’s not even a biography, only a link to his Facebook page. This absence of biography is surely unacceptable.

    Figure 3. Dr Hilary Jones on Twitter at 18 July 2016

  16. His website, too, fails to disclose interests anywhere. The “links” page is especially revealing for what it doesn’t reveal (screen shot in Figure 4). There’s no text, only the clickable logos of sixteen – yes, sixteen – brands, including Acorn stairlifts. Note the GMB logo as one of the sixteen.

    Figure 4. Links Dr Hilary Jones at 18 July 2016

  17. The “links” page has recently disappeared, following my bringing it to the attention of GMB. I don’t know when exactly the page vanished.
  18. Despite what the TV programme said, then, the merged content of both Dr Jones’ website and his Twitter feed prove that his outside promotional activities aren’t “distinctly separate” from his role as health editor on GMB. Further, the GMB website, of course, links to both Dr Jones’ website and his Twitter feed.
  19. Anyway, by using the words “TV” and “doctor” together in outside promotional activities, Dr Jones directly references his on-screen role for GMB: “TV’s Dr Hilary Jones” and “TV’s favourite doctor” are two I’ve seen. While he’s “GP, TV presenter & medical broadcaster” in national press ads for The Eye Doctor. Thus the medic replicates his on-screen role to endorse health-related products and services.
  20. Even when he doesn’t explicitly mention TV, Dr Jones still replicates his on-screen role to endorse health-related products and services: see The Hot Tub Superstore website (screen shot in Figure 5), for example. That’s because he’s appeared on TV so regularly as a doctor, for so long, and continues to do so on GMB; his name and face are recognised by the public. He’s thus a celebrity, a celebrity doctor.

    Figure 5. Dr Hilary Jones on The Hot Tub Superstore website at 1 April 2017

  21. The lack of disclosure around Dr Jones extends to public links with Ms Chapman. She also runs, independently, a business teaching swimming, the Kim Chapman Swimming School: www.kimchapmanswimmingschool.co.uk. And “TV’s favourite doctor” pops up on her business website, with a glowing endorsement (screen shot in Figure 6). Two things to notice there. First, no disclosure of the fact that Ms Chapman works for Dr Jones. Second, he’s identified as “ITV Health Editor,” despite GMB’s insistence that the medic never uses his GMB/ITV job title for outside promotional activities. Her swimming school website, meanwhile, in turn recommends Dr Jones’ personal website, describing it as “a great source of medical advice and information, for people of all ages” (screen shot in Figure 7). Perhaps, but again no disclosure of interests. Similarly, in 2013, Dr Jones attended an event promoting Ms Chapman’s business, at a Basingstoke swimming pool: http://www.basingstokegazette.co.uk/news/10707939.Swim_star_Rebecca_Adlington_is_a_splash_hit/. “I have known her [Ms Chapman] for years,” the “celebrity GP” told the local newspaper in another fulsome testimonial. Again nothing about her working for him; perhaps the reporter ran out of space.

    Figure 6. Dr Hilary Jones endorses the Kim Chapman Swimming School at 28 July 2016

    Figure 7. The Kim Chapman Swimming School recommends Dr Hilary Jones’ personal website at 28 July 2016

  22. In my second email to Ms Chapman I again asked her to confirm whether she’s the Kim Chapman of the eponymous swimming school. I also requested she tell me whether she was working for Dr Jones at the date of the report in the Basingstoke Gazette. As I said, this time I received a response: Ms Chapman agreed that disclosure of interests is important, but in my opinion, not on issues as trivial and harmless as this regarding the swimming school. This is just good old-fashioned loyalty, plain and simple!”
  23. Dr Jones has been sitting on the sofas of early-morning TV for ITV since 1989. He’s, ahem, part of the furniture. But Dr Jones isn’t only a trusted TV personality. He’s a doctor; and the public consistently trusts doctors more than any other professional group. Indeed, the TV medic’s “trusted” status is trumpeted by The Hot Tub Superstore (Figure 5) and the manufacturer of The Eye Doctor (screen shot in Figure 8), among other businesses. Viewers – and those reading in the Daily Mirror and elsewhere about his on-screen activities – should be able to rely on both him and GMB for objectivity and judgement. So it’s particularly disappointing that self-styled “TV’s favourite doctor” betrays our trust by directly referencing his on-screen role for GMB in outside promotional activities. It’s equally disappointing that GMB allows its health editor to endorse specific health-related products and services in this way. Dr Jones’ outside promotional activities risk undermining both his and the TV programme’s editorial integrity.

    Figure 8. Dr Hilary Jones endorses The Eye Doctor at 1 April 2017

  24. ADDENDUM: “Here in the UK there can’t be many people who’s [sic] word on our health is more trusted than our nations [sic] own Dr Hilary Jones,” says The Hot Tub Superstore (Figure 5). I’m not so sure – and let’s hope their hot tubs are better than their grammar. Oh, another reason the tie-up between Dr Jones and the Blackpool firm deserves scrutiny: The Hot Tub Superstore were “stars” – their word – of an ITV documentary I somehow missed, “Hot Tub Britain,” broadcast in September 2014 (screen shot in Figure 9). That’s right, ITV, the home of GMB.

    Figure 9. ITV documentary “Hot Tub Britain” at 1 April 2017


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