The TVSA Interview: Devi Sankaree Govender

Written by TVSA Team from the blog Interviews on 20 Dec 2009
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devi_150x215On Monday, 18 January 2010 M-Net's Carte Blanche will be launching the first of two new spin-off shows.

The first is Carte Blanche Medical, which will be on Mondays at 19h00 and the second is Carte Blanche Consumer, on Thursdays at 19h00.

Both shows extend the investigative journalism done on Carte Blanche, with a dedicated focus on medical and consumer related issues.

Bongani Bingwa will be anchoring the Medical spin-off and Devi Sankaree Govender headlines the Consumer show, which starts on Thursday, 21 January.

As you may know, she has the reputation of being the fierce Rottweiler on the Carte Blanche crew so I decided to catch up with her to hear her bark:


Tashi: One could say that you're the new Isabel Jones?
Devi: *laughs* You know I almost didn’t want to be compared to Isabel Jones, although I knew that the comparison would always be made because if you think about South African television over the years, the one consumer journalist, since 1975/76 has been Isabel Jones but I want to be seen as setting a whole new standard: something that’s just a bit different.

Tashi: What sorts of stories can we expect from the new show?
Devi: I think it isn’t necessarily different from what Carte Blanche viewers are used to from over the last few years - you know they don’t call me the Rottweiler for nothing *gives a bark natch*.

I am very in your face, my whole bent in terms of consumer journalism and journalism in general is that people need to be accountable.

We’ll be covering smaller issues like travel insurance and holiday clubs and also the bigger issues. For example, on the Monday medical slot, this show would do medical aid issues but if a medical story has a stronger consumer bent to it then it will be on the consumer show instead.

Another example of a story about a bigger issue is a make or model of vehicle that's considered to be problematic on the road and has resulted in deaths.

Please Help
* You have no idea how many consumer letters TVSA receives with these words - clearly peeps just need to write to anyone out of desperately not knowing where to turn.

Tashi: How are you sourcing your stories? Can people send in their complaints and concerns?
Devi: Yes - through the website, or even through the offices - it’s always best to put it in writing so it’s best to write in online.
Devi looking un-Rottweiler-like at Carte Blanche's 20th birthday party
Tashi: As a consumer yourself, what’s the thing that you’re most militant about? Mine’s: bank charges and the fact that things like diet pills are sold over the counter without a prescription.
Devi: Forever and ever amen. I get upset about that mumbo jumbo stuff - you know, like those detox foot pads, which we did a story on last year. That kind of stuff.

What also really upsets me is the lack of customer service. You find so many companies don’t care so you buy a product, there’s something wrong with it and it’s your problem. People feel completely helpless in terms of what they’re supposed to do.

We’ll be covering this in smaller inserts. The nice thing about the show is that we’re not stuck to a formula. We’re going to have the time and space to go and find that crook and if we don’t catch him, show him running away.(*Please hear Debora Patta joy here - however you imagine that*)

Karate Kicks & Tarantino Moments

Tashi: Talking about crooks, do you get rigour (i.e. deadly, frozen terror) when you have to confront someone?
Devi: No I’m so over that now hey. It’s all in a days work. If I know I have to confront someone, I feel nervous until I’ve got everything down in my head that I need to ask them.

Once I’ve done that I feel that whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. Look, I’ve been assaulted on stories before. And when it happened the first time I thought to myself, “Well, you either go home, or you go big because this is how it’s always going to be," so the nervousness isn’t there anymore.

Tashi: And now you quite enjoy it when they freak out?
Devi: I love it.

Tashi: Was that first time of being assaulted the worst incident?
Devi: Yes because of the shock. Looking back I realised that I was silly to be shocked, what was I expecting? We walked into an appliance store in Durban : it was the third story we were doing on them, exposing them – what did I expect?

Tashi: So what actually happened?
Devi: They locked us up in a store - a store is actually a very nice word for it - we walked in and they locked us up and beat us up. It lasted about three or four minutes but it felt like eternity. That's when I realised, “It can get as seriously dangerous as this.” There were four us in the crew and two case studies.

Tashi: Did you capture it on film?
Devi: Yes, we had two cameras: they broke the one but the other one was still going so we captured it.

Tashi: How did it all pan out?
Devi: Well you know, the usual justice system - there were six of them and two of them were found guilty: they got three months in jail each or a R3000 fine each and that was that.

You always know, in the back of you mind, that we have a justice system that needs serious work, so you also know that when you go in to do these stories you don’t necessarily have the legal backup that should be there.

Look, I don’t do stupid things, I’ll only walk onto premises and wait until I’m invited in - even if you suspect someone’s done something wrong it doesn’t give you the right to invade their privacy. Also you want to know you’re covered legally.

With the Durban example, I identified myself, they said “Oh please come in,” and not even a minute later all hell broke loose. I mean my husband thinks I’m crazy, nuts to even put myself in the situation, but I love it - there’s nothing like finding a conclusion to the story.

When Things Go Boston Legal

Tashi: I once read an interview with Isabel Jones after she wasn’t consumer journalising anymore - when she moved into doing all those infomercials. She said that she needed to do the infomercials to make a living.

With the consumer journalism she struggled to make cash because she was doing the opposite of advertising -. saying things that products and services didn’t want her to say. What's the biggest challenge with Carte Blanche consumer?

Devi: It's that you better be bladdy sure that what you’re saying is the truth. If we aren’t 100% sure that it’s correct we don’t do the story. It’s happened before where there’s a specific product or company that people are complaining about and once we’ve done the research we’ve realised they’ve done a lot of things right and shouldn’t be targeted.

I think the second challenge is to be fair in the stories - you don’t want to be targeting the same companies every week, or the same types of products week after week, you need balance.

Tashi: Are there big legal implications if you accuse a company of something and none of it is true?
Devi: Massive - apart from a moral implication. Morally, how do you a story when in your heart it wasn’t waterfproof in the first place?

I find it very difficult to get excited about a story in a hurry unless I truly believe it because I have to confront someone on it and I won’t have questions if I don’t believe it myself.

There are lots of legal implications because you can be sued - Carte Blanche has been sued many times over but we’re still standing today and it’s because the research is solid.

Tashi: What’s on the cards for the first episodes?
Devi: We’ve started filming them but most of the stories will only reach their conclusions in the first week of January so it’s difficult to say what will be in them. We wanted to hang back with finishing them before the end of the year because we’re sure there will be developments in many of them - what I can say is that there are some seriously hot consumer issues.
1.5 metres

Sexy prowl

Tashi: Oh, I thought you were gonna say there are some seriously hott consumers.
Devi: *laughs* ... if I tell you anything about what’s happening in the cases then people are going to be alerted to what’s happening. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s Christmas. I must tell you - I’ve always wanted to do a consumer show. I’ve found I’ve always gravtitated towards the consumer stories in the nine years I’ve been doing Carte Blanche.

Any story that involves a confrontation: I’m your girl. Maybe I have repressed emotional issues, I’m not sure. A lot of people think I’m scary but I'm 1.5 metres tall and that’s it.

I think when I was at school I was the smallest person and really started feeling that someone has to champion the underdog. If you don’t do it as the media - who else will do it? No-one worries about the granny whose having an issue with milk - people don’t care.

Tashi: It would be great if we could hire you to take you down to the shops when they refuse to change things.
Devi: Yes “I'm bringing Devi with me, let’s see what you say.”

Tashi: Yes people will be on their best behaviour. You obviously don’t have consumer issues of your own?
Devi: I do - that’s the thing about being a consumer - when they know it’s you, then they change their tune because I always go back to the contract. I think mine are easier to resolve because people get a skrik when they see me coming but that makes it worse, I say “Hang on a minute - they shouldn’t be resolving it because they get a strik - they should be doing it because they are wrong."

There’s something sexy about consumer stories. It’s very sexy - I just hope I don’t get klapped in the show. Once a year I think I can stomach it but more than that it’s a bit of a pain the ass if you ask me.

I always think that it’s people who react badly who have something to hide. Why would you want to klap me? I’m 1.5 metres tall. I’m not intimidating you, I have some questions I want to ask so if you want to klap me, you must have some serious stuff to hide.


For more about both shows, see: TVSA's preview of the January 2010 Line-up On M-Net.

Actors in this post: Devi Sankaree Govender, Bongani Bingwa

Channels in this post: M-Net

1 Comment

18 Dec 2009 14:32

LOL @ 1,5m tall.......... Tjo she's a small lady

Anyways I love Carte Blanche and how these stories expose people for who they really are

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