Gwen Lister, Namibia, is the founder of The Namibian, former chair and currently trustee of the Namibia Media Trust which publishes The Namibian, and a World Press Freedom Hero award recipient from the International Press Institute.
Lister founded The Namibian in 1985 during apartheid colonialism in the country.
The newspaper and staff were consistently targeted by right-wing elements and security forces because of the perception that the newspaper supported the liberation movement, Swapo. Lister was jailed twice, in 1984 under the Official Secrets Act, and in June 1988, detained without trial and denied access to a lawyer. Authorities jailed her the second time in an attempt to force her to reveal the source of a secret document she had published, which proposed sweeping new powers for the police. She was four months pregnant at the time.
Attacks on the newspaper and harassment of its staff culminated in an arson attack that destroyed the offices of The Namibian in October 1988.
After independence in 1990, the newspaper was again targeted by right-wing elements after a front-page report about a possible coup attempt against the new government. The editorial offices were destroyed in a phosphorous grenade firebombing. In these and other bombings, The Namibian never missed an edition. In 2000, President Sam Nujoma banned government advertising in and purchase of The Namibian due to what he called its ‘anti-government’ stance. The ban was lifted by his successor in 2011.
The role of The Namibian in pre-independence Namibia has been honored by a number of international awards. In 2000, Lister was named one of 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the last half-century by the International Press Institute. In 1992, she was awarded a Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award and the Press Freedom Award of the Media Institute of South Africa.
In October 2011, after 26 years at the helm of The Namibian, Lister handed over the reins to Tangeni Amupadhi.
At the same time, she formalized the non-profit Namibia Media Trust which owns the newspaper, and appointed other trustees. Because the profits of The Namibian and a printing press are plowed back, the NMT created a foundation by the same name, which is active in promoting the founding principles of the newspaper including press freedom, free expression, access to information and excellence in journalism. Lister works closely with the foundation in their work in Namibia and further afield, including the training of journalists, in pursuit of these goals. She also does #Freespeak podcasts on all things media, for the foundation, and speaks widely on the subjects of democracy and press freedom and the role of women.
Lister was a 1996 Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and is also author of the recently-published memoir, "Comrade Editor - on Life, Journalism and the Birth of Namibia".