Debora Patta’s 3rd Degree.

Posted: May 30, 2010 in Uncategorized


First published in the Callsheet May 2010-05-30

3rd Degree’s anchor and executive producer Debora Patta is a bit like Marmite; you either love or hate her. 

 She is as often criticized for her interview style as she is praised for her tenacity.  Her current affairs show pulls in around 1,9million viewers per night.  After a decade of exposing corruption, racism, sexism, nepotism, and most other negative isms, the show is as strong as ever.  On Tuesday 11 May, screened a special edition of 3rd Degree that looked back on ten years of investigative journalism. “It is part of our decade celebrations,” says Patta. “We also had a media breakfast on Tuesday morning and then a team lunch.  We were actually going to take Wednesday off but an important interview with Bheki Cele changed the plans. Work comes first.”

Patta says it was towards the end of 1999 that she first started toying with the idea of a current affairs show.  “I just had my first child and did not like the idea of coming back to do only news,” she recalls. “I wanted to do a current affairs program with a difference.  The vision was that of an investigative show which asks difficult questions and also comprises of a tough interview segment.”  She pitched her idea to channel director, Quraysh Pattel.  He liked it and in 2000 3rdDegree aired for the first time.

Patta was a political activist in Cape Town’s squatter camps during the 80’s while she was working on her Bachelor of Social Sciences at the University of Cape Town.  She has been an investigative journalist for 20 years and has won category awards in the CNN African Journalist Awards, Checkers Woman Of The Year and the Vodacom Women In The Media Award, among others.  “Every year 3rd Degree, or one of our team members, win an award,” says Patta. “I would say in total we win three to four awards per year which would add up to around thirty awards in the last decade.”  One such award is that of producer Anna-Maria Lombard who won the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year Award for HIV/Aids reporting.

“People are often not aware of the other team members behind the scenes.” says Patta. “I have a very strong team and they work incredibly hard.  It’s great to work with such talented people.  It makes my job much easier and so much more exciting.”  Patta says that their current team consist or around twelve people, which is only slightly larger than the team that created 3rd Degrees first episodes.

How does one qualify a most memorable interview after two decades of reporting?  “As a journalist it is difficult to remember beyond your last interview,” says Patta. “Although there has been certain highlights.  Most recently was the Leonard Chuene confrontation.  When we exposed his Caster Semenya gender test lies.  You don’t often get an opportunity to get such a clear-cut way to expose somebody.  Another was the interview with General Andrew Masondo, think it was in 2001, he was the head of the ANC’s veterans programme for the Defence Force at the time. He reacted so badly on-air after I confronted him about his gross misconduct.”

Tipping over the rocks under which such high-powered and ruthless law breakers live must surely pose a certain amount of risk?  “I think people exaggerate the dangers that we are under,” Patta says. “We are wise and sensible and don’t do anything stupid.  We take calculated risks.  If I have a bad feeling about something I will not go in.  Occasionally we use security guards. Not often though as it is too off-putting.  I have always maintained that the best place to hide is under the lights. Once you are out there in the open, what can people really do?  So you have to be quick to get the story to air.  I guess there still is a certain amount of risk involved.  I think it is harder dealing with the emotional impact; the tragedy of some stories.”   Patta recalls fighting back the tears whilst interviewing Debbie Addlington as she described how her husband axed her three young children to death before turning on her.

“But I’ve been doing this a long time.  So I am very used to the emotional aspects,” says Patta. “I have very strong coping mechanisms and a supportive family.  I exercise a lot and make sure that I stay very, very healthy.  All these things help me deal with the stress.”

3rd Degree has a very active Facebook page filled with robust debates which at times end up in vicious insults being traded.  “I must be honest, sometimes I find the level of debate on Facebook quite juvenile,” says Patta with a hint of irritation in her voice. “And other times it’s really good.  The audience that debate on our Facebook page is very different to our hardcore loyal fanbase; a lot younger.  I think you can get too hung up on what’s happening on Facebook.  Sometimes if you read Facebook you think we are on the brink of a civil war.  Whether it is good or bad it gives people a chance to interact with the show.”

Patta says she does not think television will ever lose its wow factor.  “At the end of the day an opinion piece in a reputable newspaper carries more weight than a blog,” she explains.  “And an incredible story on CNN is infinitely preferable to the stopping and stuttering of YouTube. You’ve got to work the two hand in hand.  I think there is a great need for quality investigative journalism.  I remember thinking if we make it to 2010 I will be thrilled.   Now that we are here I think we are just getting going.  One thing we’ve learned after democracy is that we are not short of stories in South Africa.  I think there will always be a role for a show like 3rd degree, whether or not I am involved, I would hope that a brand like this would continue.”

Astrid Stark

  1. GT says:

    Have you heared that DJ vetkoek, Chomie and others are having feeding scheeme tenders in limpopo province. Just investigate. It is true and I wonder why musicians who always participate in every ANC occasions like birthday parties of prominent top guys of the ruling party get tenders in limpopo.


  2. Trace Antill says:

    For the kind attention of Lady Debora Patta,

    Dear Ms. Patta,

    I urgently require a personal email address in order to send you a fantastic “controversial” two part series, a series that I would love the honour to produce for your show, its’ called “CRIMES OF PASSION” – I sincerly do not want to send my idea to your main email address at your Production office, due to plagerism. I would love to produce this two part story – which is reality at its’ best with you, because I believe you are THE best investigative journalist in the world. Kindest gratitude and loads of faith.


  3. Peter I.Okafor says:

    Hi Debora and company,

    Due to the strengthen your programs has given me over the years, I was encouraged to look into other matters that could help teenagers in South Africa and outside Africa, Most of the issues has been exposed or touched by you or other spiritually lifted talk-show host but still at that, I have something very creative, sensitive and intelligent program that reflects more on teens and parents in the country.

    I would like to secure an appointment with you as to enable me to present my concept and way forward, I will appreciate your maximum attention and cooperation regards to this matter.

    Thanks and God bless,
    Yours truly
    Peter I. Okafor
    073 145 0717 / 082 471 7006.


  4. Peter says:

    hi misss ‘d’ plese investigate the trade test at olifants fontein blacks fail a lot I went there 2 times and failed then did my trade test at eca and passed with flying colours there is racism and the person (invigilator) is also a person who marks the test as compaired to eca (isando) you test then an indipendent person comes to mark. blacks cannot ask questions and their equipment is of low standard most faulty but most companies want a tradesmer who is trade tested at Olifants fontein most whites if not all pass the test thereis something going on & we have heared that tests are for sale call me for more information about this…..


  5. Mamapontsho says:

    Hi Debra i am lady at orangefarm i would like you to come and inveatgate a project at one of our school RAPHELA EXT there in Orangefarm ext 3,it has been going on for 10 months and no diffences toilet still sticking and lackage in the toilet and again the person who is holding the tender do not practice fair labour practice,, labour agent is been coming there but it look like they are taking bribes and ittimidating employees.. can contact me at 0725981516 mampontsho


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