The increase in the arrest and imprisonment of journalists in Africa in the last year has been partly blamed on China by Reporters Without Borders.
Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye has been in jail for six years
"The influence of China in African affairs has been very toxic for democracy," the media watchdog's Leonard Vincent told the BBC.
He said China gave aid without asking for political reforms in return.
While increasing national pride within Africa had made it difficult for Western countries to assert pressure.
The Paris-based group said many governments now took action against the media irrespective of international opinion.
In its annual survey of press freedom, it mentions serial offenders like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and The Gambia.
But it is also critical of places like Rwanda, Mali and Benin - where it says media freedom used to be respected.
"African governments all over the continent have dared to do this year what they didn't dare to do the previous year," Mr Vincent told the BBC's Network Africa programme.
"Jailing journalists is routine now... for doing something that governments don't like or irritates ministers or heads of state.
"Even in democratic countries which we had placed a lot of hopes like Benin or Mali."
Eritrea came bottom of the media watchdog's world press freedom list for the first time as it says the situation in the country "has gone from bad to worse".
"The country has been cut off from the rest of the world since major police round-ups in September 2001 and at least four journalists have died in prison," the report says.