THE first broadcasts will be screened tonight in what appears to be an increasingly close referendum campaign on a directly-elected assembly for the North-East.

With only five days to go before the first votes are cast - and about one-third of voters still undecided - North East Says No will broadcast the first of what could prove to be crucial television ads.

To date, the campaign has mainly concentrated on news released through the media and Press advertising and both sides believe television broadcasts may prove vital in reaching those sections of the population yet to make up their mind on the issue.

The first No broadcast will be screened at 6.25pm on Tyne Tees and 6.55pm on BBC - after the local news. It will be followed tomorrow by the Yes campaign broadcast simultaneously on both channels at 6.55pm.

The No broadcast heavily features images of leading North-East politicians, including former Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson, and former Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers, from North Tyneside.

"We will be pressing home the message that politicians have let us down," said a North-East Says No spokesman.

The Yes 4 The North East campaign has based its broadcast around the video shown at its campaign launch in September - Be Proud, Be Positive, Vote Yes.

The advertisement features images of North-East landmarks, including High Force in Teesdale and Middlesbrough's Transporter Bridge, and famous Yes supporters such as Brendan Foster and Suzannah Clarke.

Both sides will have a second broadcast in the closing days of the campaign: No on November 1 and Yes on November 2.

No campaigners were yesterday celebrating a twin success as, for the first time, a national newspaper openly called on North-East voters to oppose the assembly. The first opinion poll was also published showing a majority prepared to vote No.

The leader column in The Times yesterday called on its readers to reject the assembly in the forthcoming referendum.

The article said: "The positive case for an elected mini-Parliament is at best vague and at worst feeble."

The call by The Times coincided with the publication of an opinion poll in The Journal newspaper, which showed 36 per cent of respondents likely to vote No, 28 per cent voting Yes and 36 per cent undecided.

Although the poll only sampled 440 voters, spread between September 23 and October 6, it is the first opinion poll to show a lead for the No camp.

A No spokesman said: "People are starting to see through the spin of the Yes campaign."

Yes 4 The North East described the poll findings as "curious" and dismissed the stance taken by The Times.

Campaign director Ross Forbes said: "The Times has made this decision on the basis of one short trip up to the North-East. It is a typical, condescending London view."