Lihle Tshabalala
Lihle Tshabalala

Ms Patta, lead us not into racial tension

I am almost tempted to open this piece with a disclaimer stating that the views expressed here are not in any way a personal attack on the main character, but then again based on my main character’s evident thrill from personally attacking people, what the hell.

Last night, in an attempt to get my monthly hairdo, I visited my hairdresser’s home to find that she, and her whole family, were glued to South Africa’s first free television station waiting zealously for the flight of the next dramatic dose of 3rd Degree.

I am not one for TV and I make a conscious effort not to watch it because it’s depressing. This post, might I warn, is not in any way about my TV preferences, nor is about the reasons behind my short-lived career in TV news journalism (if there is such a thing).

What this post is about is the level of influence that current-affairs television shows, like 3rd Degree, have in the stability of our country. I have always disagreed with the style of journalism, or rather the interviewing technique, of the fierce and forceful Debora Patta. Her importunate style, which is a characteristic we can all safely agree is needed to get to the bottom of issues involving politicians, is something I personally (professionally, and otherwise) do not aspire to.

In last night’s episode I noticed something in Patta’s interviewing that unsettled me and left me asking questions about the level of responsibility journalists have in maintaining peace and stability in our country.

Patta’s personalisation of almost every matter unpacked in her weekly production makes it unfeasible to uncover the bottom line of issues. This episode in question was on race where, subsequent to Eugene Terre’Blanche’s death, Patta and her crew went to Ventersdorp to find a deeper angle to the alleged race killings in the area and across the country.

Now, I am sure we all know that there is a race problem in South Africa and dialogue is probably the one way we can deal with it.

On two occasions in last night’s show, Patta behaved in a manner that, I felt, based on my journalism training and as a citizen, was close to inciting violence. During an interview with a young Afrikaans woman regarding her racial concerns, Patta, who is the journalist and should know better than to interject when an interviewee is speaking, dared to oppose the young woman’s rightful opinion that white and black people should live separately by saying “how do you think my black camera man feels standing here and hearing you say this”.

Her disdainful tone led to the assault of the camera man by an Afrikaner man who felt (as much as I did) that Patta was being irrelevant and was trying to get a reaction.

Later on in the same show she, instead of professionally interviewing a student leader of the Freedom Front Plus party at the University of the Free State, unashamedly accused the leader of being a racist, questioning her reasons for wanting to preserve Afrikanerdom.

Journalists like Patta is the reason why this country is taking so long to recover. I feel that there should never be a time in a journalists’ life where you need to call an interviewee a racist (not to their face anyway) and if you do, give them sufficient carte blanche to defend themselves against your accusations instead of getting your power back from seeing tears in their eyes because of you (the supposedly objective member of the Fourth Estate) and your imposed judgements on them. I was shocked, to say the least.

True, Patta’s reputation is that she brings everyone to their knees, but it’s that she does it in the most patronising way and in a way that makes people want to defend themselves, almost on a personal level. And because her tone is somewhat aggressive and erratic, I often miss what her point is.

Anyway, my opinion of her style of investigation, especially regarding race relations, is that she’s a catalyst for racial conflict (based on last night’s show and a couple of others). Think about it, where else in the world have you heard of a documentary crew taking posters with the words “I am proudly black” and “I am proudly white” to a university that is already battling out severe racial conflict? If those posters were not there to prompt reactions and to resurrect what may have been dead wood to some students, then what were they there for?

You know, the more I think about it the more I become conscious of the fact that Julius Malema’s obsession with race is on the same level as that of Ms Patta, how ironic … of the few times I have watched 3rd Degree, I have heard too many intense race-related stories and that unsettles me. I am worried because it seems as though the one person who possesses the power to deliver us from racial conflict is, in my opinion, stoking the fires.

With journalists like Debora, who needs the mob?