The comment that District 12 has always been a little backward is intended to diffuse the tension from people not applauding, which could be seen as defiance.
The districts in Panem are numbered from one to thirteen. The higher the number the farther out the district is from the capital; the farther the district, the poorer the district. District 13 was supposedly obliterated, leaving District 12 as the last and poorest district. For this reason, the district is considered “backward” or primitive. They are coal miners, and live a rugged and dirty lifestyle.
The people of District 12 get little attention from the capital, so they are more independent. This resulted in them having the confidence to defy the capital by not applauding when their tributes were named. This would normally be considered defiance, so it had to be explained away. Therefore District 12 was described as “backward.”
The commentators are not sure what to say about the crowd’s refusal to applaud. The silent salute. One says that District 12 has always been a bit backward but that local customs can be charming. (ch 3, p. 46)
This is an example of propaganda, meaning that the commentators twisted what happened into a something else. Instead of a gesture of defiance and support for the tributes, it became a cute local custom. This demonstrates that not everyone in Panem is strong and rebellious.