Victoria Police have accused the Daily Mail of stirring up trouble with young African men in Melbourne.

A series of violent incidents allegedly perpetrated by African Australian youths over the last few months has sparked a heated debate in Australia.

The Victorian state government and the federal government are at loggerheads over the issue after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and home affairs minister Peter Dutton blamed the Melbourne administration for a "soft response".

On 3 January, the Daily Mail published an "exclusive" on what it described as "the latest gang flare-up" in the capital of Victoria after an alleged incident at Tarneit Central shopping centre.

"Police spat on and abused as officers arrest African teenagers outside a shopping centre in Melbourne's west in broad daylight – in latest gang flare up", the headline read.

The article said the flare-up was part of "a spate of violence and crime" in the area and had come amid "fears that a new gang of African youths is rising up in the city's west". A number of pictures featuring police officers talking to youths were included in the article.

However, according to the Guardian, two days after the article was published, Merita Tabain, the Victoria police executive director of media and corporate communications wrote to Melbourne's major news outlets to warn them that aggressive behaviour by journalists might "exacerbate the current tensions".

"The teenagers had been doing nothing of public interest prior to the photographer's decision to move in and take the photos and [the group] reacted to the photographer and what he was doing," the email, which was marked "confidential – not for publication", read.

"This led to police being called in and a scuffle ensued in which police were spat on and arrests were made. After the event, the photographer acknowledged that his actions had provoked the incident and apologised."

Daily Mail Melbourne
Daily Mail

The article published on the Daily Mail site, however, made no reference to this side of the story. It claimed instead that the photographer and journalist had been targeted by the crowd.

According to reports, the email was sent to the Herald Sun, Macquarie Media, Channel Nine, Channel Seven, Network Ten, Fairfax Media, the ABC, SBS and the Australian.

Victoria police had previously urged media to avoid describing African youths involved in crimes as "gangs". Police commissioner Graham Ashton dismissed Dutton's claims that Victorians were too scared to go out at night.

The Mail's article also quoted and included a photograph of Nelly Yoa, who was described as a "leading Sudanese youth worker".

Yoa rose to prominence earlier in January when, in an opinion piece for the Melbourne Age, he dismissed claims by Victoria police that there was not a problem with African gang violence.

A host of mainstream media, including News Corp, the Guardian and ABC subsequently quoted Yoa but the Age has since published an editorial note in which it admited that certain claims made by Yoa "have been challenged, exaggerated or found not to be true".