Patta was born in Zimbabwe, where her Italian father had emigrated as a railway employee. Her father was from Rome, Italy and she lived there for a while when she was young. Her Italian family is originally from Praia a Mare in Calabria. When her father died, Patta and her sister inherited a hotel in Rome and holiday apartments in the south of Italy. She considers Italy her second home and travels there regularly.
She moved to South Africa with her mother, a nurse and devout Catholic, and her sister in 1976 after her parents divorced. She attended Rustenburg School for Girls in the Rondebosch suburb of Cape Town, where she matriculated in 1981.
Patta studied at the University of Cape Town where she obtained a Bachelor of Social Sciences in 1984. She briefly taught aerobics while at university.
Patta joined Radio 702 in Johannesburg as a reporter in 1990 and worked her way up to news editor in 1994 and special assignments editor in 1997.
The first news story she worked on that was aired on Radio 702 was about the return of ANC leader Oliver Tambo from exile in December 1990.
In 1997 and 1998, while working as news and special assignments editor for Radio 702 and its sister station Cape Talk, she investigated and reported on the 1986 plane crash in which Mozambican President Samora Machel was killed. She received several threatening phone calls during the investigation. In June 1998 she participated in a post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission special hearing, providing expert opinion and assisting with questioning regarding the 1987 Helderberg plane crash and the Machel plane crash. She was later interviewed for a 2008 Mayday (Air Crash Investigation or Air Emergency) documentary on the Helderberg plane crash.
In October 2013, Patta returned to Radio 702 as a stand-in talk radio host.
Patta has worked for e.tv, the first privately owned free-to-air television station in South Africa, since its inception in 1998. She started as a senior correspondent in Johannesburg and was subsequently appointed chief anchor of e.tv news.
From 2000 to 2013 she was the executive producer and anchor of the weekly current affairs television programme 3rd Degree, a show conceptualized by her which focused on hard-hitting interviews. The final episode of 3rd Degree aired on 14 May 2013.
She has reported on major international stories such as the September 11 attacks and the death of Princess Diana and has interviewed many notable individuals including Shimon Peres, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa, Julius Malema, Eugène Terre'Blanche and Robert McBride.
She was appointed editor-in-chief of e.tv news in 2005. In 2009 she resigned her position as editor-in-chief, "to follow her passion for journalism" and focus on 3rd Degree.
She played a key role in the launch of South Africa's first 24-hour news channel eNews Channel Africa (eNCA) by e.tv in 2008.
In 2012 a puppet version of Patta voiced by Nikki Jackman was cast as co-host of the satirical television news programme ZANews.
On 7 May 2013, e.tv and eNCA announced that Debora Patta had resigned "to pursue other interests as a freelancer for international news companies".
Following her departure from e.tv, she began working as a foreign correspondent for CBS News.